Women Making Art

Women in the Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts Since 1960, Second Edition

by Deborah J. Johnson (Volume editor) Wendy Oliver (Volume editor)
©2020 Textbook XVIII, 334 Pages


This important interdisciplinary book is a unique and timely contribution to the field of women in the arts. Each chapter is devoted to a single artist and a single ground-breaking work that altered the course of its art form in a full array of genres, including dance, music, installation, photography, architecture, poetry, literature, theater, film, performance art, and popular culture. These discussions are preceded by a comprehensive introduction to art by women over the past century that sets the artists who follow in a context that insightfully illuminates their struggles, their achievements, and their places in history at a critical moment in the contemporary world.
In this second edition, the authors have made a significant update with six new chapters, new photos, and a revised introduction. The new chapters take as their subjects the contributions of Yoko Ono, Crystal Pite, Caroline Shaw, Beyoncé, Kara Walker, and Diane Paulus. Each of the new chapters represents an artist or a category of art that has grown in prominence or engaged a significant redefinition in the contemporary world that was not addressed in the original edition of the book. Updating this material re-establishes the book’s priority and relevance, especially in its expansion of representation of artists of color and artists in popular culture, and reinforces its appeal not only as a popular read, but as a classroom textbook or resource at the university level.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Political Dialogic of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964)
  • 2. Disappearing Act: Yvonne Rainer, Trio A, and the Feminist Dilemma (1966)
  • 3. The Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks (1970s–’80s)
  • 4. The Secularization of the Sacred: Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party and Feminist Spirituality (1974–79)
  • 5. Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills: Reproductive or Transgressive Mimicry? (1977–81)
  • 6. Zaha Hadid: The Peak Club Competition and the Politics of Architecture (1982)
  • 7. Erecting a Statue of an Unknown Goddess in Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991)
  • 8. Jane Campion’s The Piano: A Feminist Tale of Resistance (1993)
  • 9. Yielding to Multiplicity: The Kaleidoscopic Subject of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive (1997)
  • 10 Crystal Pite’s Emergence: Hierarchy, Swarm Intelligence, and Contemporary Ballet (2009)
  • 11. A Firm Foundation: Formal Tradition in Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices (2009–2012)
  • 12 Beygency: Power, Sex, and Subjectivity in the Feminist Politics of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (2013)
  • 13. Ephemeral Monumentality and the Art of the Future: Kara Walker’s A Subtlety (2014)
  • 14. Having Her Pie and Eating It Too: Waitress and the Popular Art of Diane Paulus (2016)
  • Contributors
  • Index


1.1.Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, Tokyo 1964 performance, Photograph by Minoru Hirata, © Yoko Ono

2.1.Yvonne Rainer in Trio A, Photograph by Jack Mitchell, © Highberger Media, Inc.

3.1.Gwendolyn Brooks, 1972, Photograph by Bettmann, © Getty Images

4.1.Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1979, mixed media, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Courtesy of Judy Chicago/Art Resource, NY, Photograph © Donald Woodman

4.2.Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Susan B. Anthony place setting, 1979, mixed media, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Courtesy of Judy Chicago/ Art Resource, NY, Photograph © Donald Woodman

4.3.Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Christine de Pisan place setting, 1979, mixed media, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Courtesy of Judy Chicago/ Art Resource, NY, Photograph © Donald Woodman

4.4.Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Artemesia Gentileschi place setting, 1979, mixed media, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Courtesy of Judy Chicago/Art Resource, NY, Photograph © Donald Woodman

4.5.Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. © Estate of Pablo Picasso/ARS, NY

4.6.Faith Ringgold, Bernice Mask, 1974, mixed media, Collection of the Artist, Courtesy of the Artist and ARS, New York, © Faith Ringgold

5.1.Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #4, 1977, gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

5.2.Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #27, 1979, gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

5.3.Tippie Hedren in Marnie, 1964, Director Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, Photo Credit: Album/Art Resource, New York

5.4.Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #13, 1978, gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

5.5.Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #34, 1979, gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

6.1.Zaha Hadid, Unbuilt Project for The Peak Club, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China, Exterior Perspective, synthetic polymer on paper mounted on canvas, David Rockefeller, Jr. Fund, The Museum of Modern Art © The Museum of Modern Art/ Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York

7.1.Amy Tan, Photograph by Mireya Acierto, © Getty Images

8.1.Jane Campion, Photograph by Sally Bongers, © Jane Campion

9.1.Paula Vogel, Photograph by Les Guzman, © Guzman

10.1Crystal Pite’s Emergence, Photograph © Lindsay Thomas

11.1Caroline Shaw, 2017, Photograph by Kait Moreno

12.1Beyoncé, 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, Photograph by Jason LaVeris, © Getty Images

13.1Kara Walker, Photograph by Ari Marcopoulos, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

13.2Kara Walker, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014, polystyrene foam, sugar, approx. 35.5 x x 75.5 feet (10.8 x 7.9 x 23 m), Installation view: Domino Sugar Refinery, a project of Creative Time, Brooklyn, New York, 2014, Photograph by Jason Wyche, Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

13.3.Kara Walker, Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994, cut paper on wall, Installation dimensions variable; approximately 156 x 600 inches (396.2 x 1524 cm), Installation view: Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2008, Photograph by Joshua White, Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

13.4.Kara Walker, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014, polystyrene foam, sugar, approx. 35.5 x 26 x 75.5 feet (10.8 x 7.9 x 23 m), Installation view: Domino Sugar Refinery, a project of Creative Time, Brooklyn, New York, 2014, Photo: Jason Wyche Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

14.1Diane Paulus, Photograph by Susan Lapides



This book began out of friendship, discussion of common interests, and as an extension of a team-taught course, Women in the Arts since 1960, which we developed together in the early 1990s. As colleagues in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and specialists in the areas of art and dance, we developed a curriculum that integrated many different arts in the spirit of interdisciplinary learning. Specifically, we looked intensively at the work of modern and contemporary (mostly American) women artists in thirteen different fields: performance art, modern dance, poetry, installation art, photography, architecture, fiction, film, theater, contemporary ballet, contemporary classical music, Broadway musicals, and popular culture.

The course offered our students and us the opportunity to discover a myriad of new interconnections among the arts, feminist thought, and cultural history. The synergistic effect of these elements was compelling for us, and when we realized that there was no existing text that had the same effect, we decided to create this book. Mirroring the organization of the course, we invited scholars from the varied arts disciplines to write chapters focused primarily upon a single work or collection by a well-known female artist. This, we felt, would allow for a thoughtful and sophisticated engagement with each work, rather than taking a survey approach, where depth is necessarily sacrificed to breadth.

The first edition of the book was published in 2001, and we have been using it in our course ever since then. When an editor at Peter Lang suggested a second edition, we were happy to revise and update the book, adding new chapters to bring the book into the 21st century. The primary goals of both the course and the book, first and second editions, are to introduce readers to several important female artists; to develop an understanding of recent multidisciplinary arts history and criticism; and to assess the relationship among the arts within the period since 1960.

Our choice of artists was made through research and conversations with scholars in each of the relevant fields. Because we were including only one artist per field, one might suppose that the choices would be difficult to make. However, we were not concerned with selecting the one best female poet (or composer or choreographer) since 1960, but instead, someone whose impact was unique, lasting, and significant. We also wanted to include women of varied races, religions, and perspectives. Although primarily from the United States, the group includes Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite, New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, and Zaha Hadid, Iraqi-born architect based in London until her death in 2016. Because of our initial goal of creating a textbook for students in the U.S., the content was weighted toward providing our readers with a knowledge of the movers and shakers within their own modern and contemporary American culture. However, our current global society continues to reveal that national identity is much less meaningful than it was in the past. All of the artists in our book are known throughout the Western—and increasingly frequently, non-Western—world for their artistic achievements. Perhaps a third edition of the book will one day make the categories ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ equally redundant. A final criterion for inclusion was that the work of the artist be readily available in some format so that readers could experience it directly, since essays cannot substitute for personal engagement with an artwork.

The ultimate choice of work or works presented for each artist was decided, in most cases, by the editors in collaboration with individual authors. Many of the works selected have won prizes or honors in their fields and are thus well known not only within their respective arts communities, but beyond. The chapters are arranged in chronological order spread over six decades beginning with Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece in 1964 to Diane Paulus’ 2016 production of Waitress on Broadway.

Chapter 1 examines Ono’s work as a performance artist over a period of several decades, but focusing primarily on Cut Piece (1964). In an act with wide implications, this work invited audience members to cut off pieces of Ono’s clothing as she sat quietly, without reacting. Author Deborah Johnson traces the priority of feminist ideation in this work, and to a lesser extent, throughout Ono’s performance work, in general.

In Chapter 2 on choreographer Yvonne Rainer and Trio A (1966), Wendy Oliver discusses how minimalism, postmodern dance, and feminism share common ground as seen in this 4 & 1/2 minute dance. It problematizes the dancing body and examines Rainer’s solution to avoiding or averting “the male gaze.”

Annie Perkins’s chapter on poet Gwendolyn Brooks analyzes several poems from the mid-late 1900s, which were published as collections in the 1970s and 80s, including “Gang Girls,” “To Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals,” “ In Memoriam: Edgar William Blakely,” “Walter Bradford, Music for Martyrs,” “A Welcome Song for Laini Nzinga,” “The Life of Lincoln West,” and “The Boy Who Died in My Alley.” By exploring a gallery of real and imagined figures, Perkins examines issues of race and gender through the lens of Brooks’s beautifully wrought poems, and shows them to be, above all, an affirmation of the Black experience.

Next, Deborah Johnson explores the little-discussed spiritual aspect of artist Judy Chicago’s famous work The Dinner Party (1974–79), which includes art traditionally associated with women such as weaving, ceramics, and embroidery. Johnson proposes that both feminist and Judeo-Christian interpretations of the work are appropriate and contribute to the intention and scope of the project.

In Chapter 5, Maura Reilly analyzes Untitled Film Stills (1977–81) by photographer Cindy Sherman. These photos are of Sherman herself, acting out various solo scenarios, or evocative moments, from the lives of the female characters she plays. Reilly discusses and clarifies the difficulties inherent in mocking what one is mimicking.

Loretta Lorance writes in Chapter 6 about one of the world’s most prestigious architecture contests and how it was won by Zaha Hadid in 1982. Hadid’s award-winning work, The Peak Club, although never built, led to her increasingly acclaimed career as a Post-modern architect with several breakthrough buildings to her credit.

In the following chapter, Phillipa Kafka writes of Amy Tan’s novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), showing the complex interweaving of relationships among Chinese American women, the mystical traditions of China, and more “scientific” Western traditions. Despite the ever-present cruelty towards women in the book, Kafka finds Tan to be hopeful about the future.

Author Denise Bauer’s Chapter 8 also deals with the oppression of women in her essay on The Piano (1993), a film directed by Jane Campion. Bauer discusses both the content and filmic techniques, which combine to make “a feminist tale of resistance.”

Next, Sarah Stevenson’s examination of playwright Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive (1997) explains Vogel’s depiction of how a survivor of sexual abuse becomes alienated from her body. Stevenson points to the themes of fragmentation, multiplication, and division that occur as the play moves among different time periods.

Progressing into the 21st century, Chapter 10 examines choreographer Crystal Pite’s work Emergence (2009). Wendy Oliver discusses how this dance expresses the scientific concept of “emergence” through contemporary ballet and explores the innate intelligence of bee behavior and collective action for survival. The discussion also touches upon gender roles in ballet, as well as the scarcity of female choreographers working with large ballet companies in the 21st century.

In Chapter 11, Christina Reitz analyzes music composer Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer-winning work Partita (2012). This ground-breaking vocal composition in four sections uses techniques from a variety of cultures to create new types of sounds and harmonies from the human voice, while still using familiar and historic forms in which to contain them.

Vocal and performance artist Beyoncé Knowles is the focus of Chapter 12. Deborah Johnson examines the artist’s feminist stance, particularly evident in her 2013 release, The Visual Album. Against a background of feminist history, Johnson points out the challenges inherent in declaring oneself a feminist while participating in a commercially driven, pop culture world.

Chapter 13 discusses installation artist Kara Walker and her work, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, a huge sculpture made of sugar and displayed in the abandoned Domino Sugar warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 2014. Author Rebecca Peabody examines the multiple meanings of the sculpture and the audience’s interactions with it within the context of the history of the oppression of African Americans and women.

Finally, author Jennifer Madden scrutinizes all aspects of the Broadway musical Waitress (2016) and Diane Paulus’ skillful direction of it. Directorial choices make a tremendous difference in how a play is perceived by an audience; Madden delves into Paulus’ aesthetic as expressed in this musical, asking the question, “Can a Broadway musical be feminist?”

Taken as a whole, these essays show us a spectrum of compelling and sometimes surprising ways in which women’s (art)work is constructed and displayed, read, and performed. It is our hope that this volume will attest not only to the significance of the art it presents, but also to the richness of interpretations and analyses made by our authors. We hope to share with you the exciting synergy of this cross-disciplinary juxtaposition as we expand the dialogue between women’s and gender studies, and the arts.



The realization of the second edition of this volume, with five new chapters and a new introduction, has been pure joy: an opportunity to acknowledge the sustained achievements of those artists who we have reclaimed from the first edition and who continue to speak to us in the 21st century; and an opportunity to bring to light several new, mostly young, artists who have revealed themselves as significant shapers of art and culture at this very moment. As the former Acquisitions Editor of this second edition, Kathryn Harrison, of Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., said when she approached us about the new book, “the time is right to remind people that women can, do, and will achieve at the highest levels, despite obstacles.” We couldn’t agree more.

The introduction of new chapters meant the elimination of two old ones, unhappily, but in no way is this a commentary on the value or distinction of these subjects from the first book. Each one has made a place in history that we are certain will stand for far longer than the years that separate our two editions. For the most part, the decision to forego an earlier chapter, while difficult, was primarily a function of avoiding duplication of themes, media, or disciplines. Similarly, we do not repeat here in our acknowledgements the names of those cited in the first edition—family, colleagues, and friends—who were so critical to its production. That part carried over from the first edition and modestly updated here, simply would not have held up without their contributions. We hope they, too, know that our gratitude extends far beyond the years between our two books.

There are now new individuals and institutions without whose help this edition could not have come into being. The administration of Providence College, our academic home, has been implicitly and explicitly supportive of our work, especially with regard to funding. Dalila Alves, Assistant Director, Sponsored Projects and Research Compliance, and Joan Branham, Associate Dean, School of Arts and Science, were critical in the solicitation and/ or securing of publication funds; finally, Dawn Terry, Administrative Coordinator, Faculty Affairs, and Sheila Adamus Liotta, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, facilitated the remaining funding that made this publication possible. We are so very grateful to all of them, and especially, their support of, loyalty to, and belief in their faculty.

Additional specific individuals at Providence College deserve special mention: students Josef Ricci ’18 and Sara Conway ’21 performed innumerable tasks relating to the physical production of the text, its content, and the acquisitions of photographs, rights, and other pertinent information. Their supervisor, Harriet Pappas, provided release time for them and technical support, often at a moment’s notice.

Artists and their representatives often went above and beyond their usual tasks and regulations to facilitate our work. Among them, we owe special thanks to Caroline Shaw, Zaha Hadid Architects, Jake Zellweger at Metro Pictures, Brent Sikkema at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Katherine Wilson, dance archivist at the National Ballet of Canada, Toronto, Mary Cynthia McGowan, assistant to Diane Paulus, and Karla Merrifield, photo archivist to Yoko Ono. Among our colleagues at Peter Lang, Inc., we extend our gratitude most especially to Kathryn Harrison and Erika Hendrix. Erika has been a careful and conscientious editor and problem-solver, and this book is much the better for that. For the intellectual generosity and insight of our contributing authors, without whom there would be no book, or at the very least, a lesser book, we are grateful beyond words. And at last, our deepest thanks must go to the artists, themselves, who have illuminated our intellectual, aesthetic, social, political, and spiritual lives with their creative genius against all odds; to paraphrase the rallying cry of all determined women in the 21st century, “nevertheless, they persisted.”


XVIII, 334
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVIII, 334 pp., 26 b/w ill., 1 tables

Biographical notes

Deborah J. Johnson (Volume editor) Wendy Oliver (Volume editor)

Deborah J. Johnson is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Culture at Providence College in the Art History and Women’s Studies departments. She is the author of several books, scholarly articles, and museum catalogs, two of which won national awards. She received her PhD from Brown University. Wendy Oliver, Professor of Dance and Women & Gender Studies at Providence College, chairs the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Film. She is the author/editor of articles and books on dance and gender, dance history, and criticism. She holds an EdD from Columbia University.


Title: Women Making Art
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
353 pages