Apsara DiQuinzio was browsing the shelves at University Press Books, whose Berkeley storefront is now shuttered, in the winter of 2017 not long after the first Women’s March.
That January’s worldwide protest had galvanized millions of people to proclaim their outrage over President Donald Trump’s inauguration and demand equal rights for all. The march also inspired DiQuinzio, senior curator of modern and contemporary art at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, to create the Feminist Art Coalition. The more than 100 museums and nonprofit arts organizations and leaders in the nationwide collective committed themselves to highlighting feminist art practices in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
“I was really impressed by how the Women’s March was this organic resistance movement that took place globally,” DiQuinzio told The Chronicle via video. “It made me think, ‘What if museums could come together in a strategic way and align their programming to foster important conversations surrounding feminism?’”
It prompted her to reach out to colleagues throughout the U.S. “to ask if they thought the idea was too outlandish. But to her delight, “everyone was very supportive, so we got to work on it.”
DiQuinzio recalled that moment while brainstorming how she wanted to organize BAMPFA’s first exhibition under the auspices of the coalition. Just like the countless women who had taken to the streets in pink pussyhats, fueled by defiant rage and despair after seeing Trump take the oath of office, she wanted to convey how urgent and alive feminism and feminist art still are in the 21st century — and how diverse.
“I came across a book called ‘New Time’ by (the experimental Berkeley poet) Leslie Scalapino, and that title immediately resonated with me,” DiQuinzio said. “It seemed like the perfect metaphor for feminists who are essentially trying to puncture patriarchal time and rewrite equity in the present — equal pay for equal labor, equal rights, freedoms and privileges.”
The resulting exhibition, “New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century,” one of BAMPFA’s largest in recent history, opens Saturday, Aug. 28, after a 12-month delay while the museum was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The expansive survey of contemporary art from the past two decades includes work by 76 artists using a range of media — paint, photography, ceramic, video and mixed-material assemblage.
The showcase occupies nearly half of the museum’s 25,000 square feet of gallery space, with a large-scale mural by Venezuelan-born artist Luchita Hurtado making a bold statement at the heart of the exhibition. Hurtado designed the abstract mural, commissioned by BAMPFA for its 30-by-63-foot Art Hall, shortly before dying last year at 99, and it was installed this summer at BAMPFA in accordance with her specifications.
The rest of the exhibition is organized thematically into eight sections, which serve as mini exhibitions in and of themselves.
“Arch of Hysteria” features a lifelike androgynous bronze in quasi-sexual release by Louise Bourgeois (1993). Kara Walker’s massive cut-paper silhouettes in “Endless Conundrum, an African Anonymous Adventuress” (2001) mine the tragic history of racism and sexual violence in the U.S. San Francisco artist Koak depicts domestic rage in her large-scale oil painting “Breaking the Prairie,” in which a skirted figure destroys a wooden dining chair with an ax.
Koak was inspired by Grant Wood’s Depression-era painting of the same name, which depicts men clear-cutting wild grassland, “to think about the chronology of taming the wildness in nature to create domestic settings in which women were in turn tamed and trapped,” she explained. “I wanted to imagine a setting where women hit a boiling point and broke out of those constructs of domesticity.”
She was working on “Breaking the Prairie” while listening to the Kavanaugh hearings daily in her Dogpatch studio (“Dr. Blasey Ford’s moving testimony heightened the feelings that went into this work,” Koak said), and now the canvas anchors the show’s powerful section on women’s anger, “Too Nice for Too Long,” alongside charged works by Judy Chicago, Amy Sillman and the Russian agitprop band Pussy Riot.
Visionary, delicate earthenware work by another San Francisco artist, Nicki Green, is featured in the section “Gender Alchemy,” which examines evolving depictions of bodies that resist the fixed constraints of binary categorization.
“As a trans woman, I’m aware of the way transness can be engaged with feminism but has historically been excluded from women’s spaces,” Green said. “It’s complicated, difficult, painful sometimes. I appreciate the plurality of this show. Plurality and intersectionality feel like the only ways forward, and it’s an honor to get to be a part of these conversations.”
Although all the work in “New Time” touches in its own way on big-picture notions of identity, pride and delayed justice, DiQuinzio curated the show by selecting work that all coalesces around the central idea that “there are many feminisms today, not one.”
“Feminism isn’t a static idea,” she said, though noting it is still a stigmatized one.
The oil painting “Stigmata” by Los Angeles artist Linda Stark greets visitors as they enter the first gallery — just past a hallway lined with 1980s posters by the famously bold activist group the Guerrilla Girls — and it serves as the cover image of the impressive 240-page accompanying catalog.
The close-up depiction of Stark’s left hand, painted over the course of five years, shows the word “feminist” written in red into her finely lined palm. She’s been inscribed and literally stigmatized by this perennially “dirty word,” DiQuinzio explained.
“Everyone agreed it was the perfect painting to use as a signature image (for ‘New Time’) because it gets at how complicated the word itself still is, that there is still a stigma,” said DiQuinzio. “I’ve talked to so many men who say, ‘I don’t want to be branded a feminist.’ Or take Dolly Parton who absolutely embraces the beliefs of feminism, but she doesn’t like the term because she associates it with male hatred. But that’s not what feminism is.”
DiQuinzio did extensive research and outreach to track down the best examples of current feminist art to display, but she noted that the exhibition “can’t possibly be comprehensive.” Instead, “it’s a small snapshot of what’s being made” by feminist artists all over the world, she said with excitement in her voice about finally being able to welcome visitors to BAMPFA and let the breadth and beauty of the work on display speak for itself in real physical space. (“New Time” is her last exhibition for BAMPFA, where she has been on staff since 2012; she announced her departure this summer.)
“My goal was to have every piece be a work of real excellence. People are going to be blown away.”
Curator’s Talk: Apsara DiQuinzio on “New Time”: In-person conversation. 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29. $11-$13, free for BAMPFA members; UC Berkeley students, faculty, staff; attendees 18 and younger; one adult per child age 13 and younger; and artists in the BAMPFA collection/MATRIX. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley. 510-642-0808. bampfa.org
“New Time: Art & Feminisms in the 21st Century”: On view through Jan. 31. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley. 510-642-0808. bampfa.org
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the bookstore that Apsara DiQuinzio visited in Berkeley. University Press Books still runs its business online at www.universitypressbooks.com.
Jessica ZackJessica Zack writes regularly for The Chronicle on film, books and the arts. Twitter: @jwzack