ALL ARTS Documentary Selects


The Artist is Female

This documentary explores 20th century women artists, starting with turn-of-the-century German Expressionist Gabriele Münter. In interviews with art historians, along with artists like Carolee Schneemann and Louise Bourgeois, the conversation expands to discuss how art history has excluded women from the canon, how second-wave feminist art fought back, and the continuing struggle today.

AIRED: August 31, 2020 | 1:15:08



♪ Everybody plays a game

♪ We don't have to

♪ Say the name

♪ If we take a

♪ Summary

♪ Boys and girls just ain't the same ♪

♪ I don't have to

♪ Say no more

♪ You know what I'm

♪ Aiming for

♪ Don't care if I

♪ Break a law

♪ I want more

You know, to be the college mascot

on the boys' team,

you have to be attractive, though.

You can't just be any art girl.

You have to be like their pinup,

their cheerleader.

[ Sighs ] Yeah.














♪ Fare thee well to my father

♪ Fare thee well to my mother

♪ Fare thee well, sisters, brothers ♪

♪ I beg they bury me an orphan

♪ So when the pearly gates, they open ♪

♪ I'll be led on through

♪ And I'll be named one of God's children once again ♪



♪ It's still early morning

♪ We could go down to the harbor ♪

♪ And jump between the boats


Schneemann: It was very disturbing to my family

because it wasn't normal.

Then my father, who was my good friend,

decided he would not let me go to college except for typing,

so I had lots of resistance always

and then bits of very good luck.

By the time I'm a teenager,

I'm in complete conflict with my family,

and they don't want anything about whatever art is.

They don't know really what it is,

but they don't want me to be that kind of a bohemian,

or a radical or...

At the same time, I had a godmother

who had run away from home

and become an actress in New York,

and she was my magic person, my godmother,

but I knew with the family that she was also considered maybe,

like, in a dangerous life, like a prostitute.

She didn't have a husband.

She was all alone and beautiful in the big city,

and I knew that's where I had to go.

[Indistinct speaking ]

Once I was in college,

I was considered unteachable.

I was also told I was gifted,

but that it wouldn't matter, and I was told,

"You're only a girl. Don't set your heart on art."

And I was desperately researching in history

to find some precedent,

to find some women artists

because I thought there must be a whole history of them.

So I always tell the story of

when I discovered an artist named Cézanne.

I thought it could be a woman.

Anne is a girl's name, and I don't know what Céz is,

but I think that's my mascot,

so if Cézanne could be a painter,

I can be a painter.



♪ No one has said

♪ What the truth should be

♪ And no one decided that I feel this way ♪

The tutor at the art college

I went to in 1963, on the second day I was there,

he said, "I won't be talking to you very much

because when you are 30,

you will be making jam and having babies."

Woman: So you had four babies as soon...

Five, five, five.

Yeah. And I...

Thank goodness I thought in the right way,

and I said to him, "Well, what's wrong with that?"

You know, because what he was saying

was that it's not worth talking to somebody

who that is their future,

and that then set a mark for me...


...that made me very, very angry

about what my role at this art school was,

but I think that anger was a very driving force.

-Right. -Yes,

but I kept on coming up against a lot of very,

very strong opinions from male tutors.

They were uncomfortable with my ambitions.



♪ No one should fear

♪ What they cannot see

I don't necessary love big things.

I'm just interested in a space that is

not just the eye-level space for the art object.

You know, the paintings all go at eye level.

Sculpture sits very comfortably within one.

I'm interested in sculpture as a form of exploration,

so for me, that's always what a space is.

It's something that I want to explore,

but I think the objects do that for me,

and I think that everything I make in order to...

is always within my size,

but when this has four on top of them [Laughs]

it becomes...

then it becomes 5 meters tall.

So that is how the size evolves,

and it's always in relationship to -- initially to the site.

Like in Venice, it's 9-meters high, the space,

so I knew I wanted to use that space

that is often forgotten about.


They gave me the area in the woods

that I liked very much. Okay.

As usual, I have to learn my lesson.

One day, I did... was far too ambitious,

a kind of a rock arch. Mm-hmm.

To do this costs too much to do, so that went.


[ Both laugh ]

The idea of these was to have these in the woods,

so they were quite in with the trees,

but the frames meant that you would look...

Quite high. ...into the trees and the sky.

I see, yes, yeah. So it was trying to work

with the environment there, yes, yeah.

This will be 12 meters.



♪ Yeah

♪ Cut off the balls of my feet

♪ Make me walk on salt

♪ Take me down to the police

♪ Charge me with assault

♪ Smile on her face

♪ She does what she wants to me ♪

♪ That's right

The statistics are really interesting.

Art schools now have 60% female students,

30%, 40% males.

When it came to leaving the art schools,

even though there were only...

there were less boys, the boys were still in the top.

20 years on, the main number of artists showing is...

I think it's...

I think that 60% males and 40% female,

so what happens in that?

At the moment, there are more women in art school,

in the United States and in Europe, than men.

Now, it is not reflected in the galleries and in the museums,

so only about 20% of the solo shows

in New York City are women,

and the museums are worse.

I do think it will begin to count.

At the level of collecting and money,

this is still very hard.

The prices for women's art, even the great Louise Bourgeois,

are much lower than the most expensive men.



Bourgeois: That is why I was able to work for so many years

with a complete ignorance of the market.

It is not me who ignored the market.

It is the market who ignored me, and it was okay

because it was...

It did not discourage me at all.

Woman: But did it seem okay at the time?

Or did, at the time, did you sometimes get discouraged?

No, it was very difficult.

It was very difficult to stand a competition,

but more it was part of a...

It was part of the difficulty, but so it's okay.

Do we really believe, or do many of us believe,

that Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog (Orange)"

is a hugely better work than any one of these cells

in this Louise Bourgeois exhibition?

I certainly don't, so if we rely on the market

as our avenue for understanding value,

then we're lost.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Newman: Thank you. L double-O three five.

The 6-15, which brings us to lot 47...

[ Indistinct conversations ]

...which is the Kandinsky,

the beautiful "Murnau Landscape with Green House."

Lot 47, the 1909 Kandinsky oil shown here,

and we will start the bidding here at £12 million.

To start the lot, £12 million, £12 million.



Otherwise, I shall sell it...

♪ A sense of you £18,500,000!

Sold, congratulations.

L double-O two eight.

Thank you.

Congratulations. Thank you, which brings us

to lot 53, which is the important Kandinsky

from 1913, "Painting with White Lines,"

the abstract work shown here, behind the rostrum,

and we will start the bidding at £23 million.

Gabriele Muenter was Kandinsky's partner,

and they painted together in Murnau,

particularly in the years

leading up to the First World War,

and her paintings are very distinctive

by their warmth of color and expressive color,

much like you see also in Kandinsky's paintings

of the same period, but the difference

was that Kandinsky developed into abstraction

with this breakthrough in 1913 that really set the scene

for everything that was to follow in the 20th century

with abstract art, and that is why his paintings

now are so internationally sought-after by collectors

and museums around the world.












There was a small experiment,

not so small, an experiment done in California

with a bottle of wine.

They told the subjects that it was either a $100 bottle

of wine or a $10 bottle of wine, same wine.

No surprise, everyone enjoyed the $100 better.

What was more interesting

was that they did brain scans on the subjects,

and it became very clear that people

were having a different physiological experience

with the $100 bottle of wine.

To make it simple, the reward centers in the brain

were more active

when you think you're drinking a $100 bottle of wine

than when you're drinking a $10 bottle of wine.





Schneemann: Well, I mean, there was always a conflict

about the meaning of the body,

that it could not be reclaimed apart

from male-dominant traditions,

and my position was that it had been reclaimed,

and that was a constant battle, and I won,

but it wasn't for sure.

When I saw the necessity to try to film

the aspects of our lovemaking, it was a feeling...

I knew what it felt like, but what would it look like?

So whenever I mentioned this word,

people would mention pornography, and I said,

"No, it can't be that. It will not be pornography,

but I don't know what it would be."

The film had to go to a laboratory

that was used by Stan Brakhage

because the FBI was looking for pornography

in all these small laboratories,

and I was [Speaks indistinctly]

I never knew exactly what would be on that footage.

Sometimes it was too low. It was too high.

It was perfect, so I had to have a letter with every hundred feet

that went to the lab, from a psychiatrist, that said,

"This footage is a study of the archetypal cross."

Completely confusing, but there was a letter,

if the FBI came, that would just further confuse the issue,

so it was very slow to process my film,

and also, as people know, it was collaged with many layers,

and when I finally took it to the lab for printing,

they said, "No, no, no, it's too fat.

It won't go through the sprockets."

And then I was really desperate.

I said, "I'm going to jump in that tub of acid."

And they said, "Okay, calm down. Calm down.

We will print it once, but don't tell anybody, by hand."

So these two guys at the film lab go through the original

"Fuses" frame-by-frame.






Oh, I was always isolated,

and I was always surrounded by double knowledge.

Double knowledge -- You're very gifted,

but it won't matter.

You can do whatever you want, but don't assume any authority.

You can have that important art-history book,

but your boyfriend will take it,

and you're to also fix the button on his jacket,

so whatever I really felt

should be a cultural integration was a fragment.

So by the '70s in the states,

it begins to change with feminist assertion,

and that's a very conflicted time in New York

because women begin to organize independent galleries

and critical theory,

and the men want to be part of this as a social community,

and then they begin to tell us what the problems are,

and in the '70s, the women decide we have to separate.

It was very painful and full of conflict for everyone,

but we separated from the men,

and then we see the full degree of marginalization

of women's history,

and then all this writing and research

and new works start to happen,

and it's irrepressible and it doesn't stop.


Waiting for someone to come in.

Waiting for someone to hold me.

Waiting for someone to feed me.

Waiting for someone to change my diaper.

Waiting to crawl, to walk.

Waiting to talk.

Waiting to wear my frilly dress.

Waiting to be a pretty girl.

Waiting to sit on Daddy's lap.



Waiting for my breasts to develop.

Waiting to wear a bra.

Waiting to menstruate.

Waiting to read forbidden books.

Waiting to go to a party, to be asked to dance,

to dance close.

Waiting to be beautiful.

Waiting for the secret.

Waiting for life to begin.


Waiting to get dressed up, to shave my legs.

Waiting to be pretty.

Waiting for him to notice me.

Waiting for him to ask me to go steady.

Waiting to neck, to make out.

Waiting to go all the way.

Waiting to smoke, to drink, to stay out late.

Waiting to be a woman.

Waiting for my great love.

Waiting for my wedding day.

Waiting for my wedding night.

Waiting for sex.

Waiting for him to make the first move.

Waiting for him to give me pleasure.

Waiting for him to excite me.

Waiting for him to give me an orgasm.


Waiting for him to come home, to fill my time.

Waiting for life to begin.


As a tutor, I'd be rung up by an art school,

and they would say, "Oh, hi, Phyllida. We've got four girls,

and they're all making work with blood.

Could you please come give them tutorials?"

Oh, no. [ Laughs ]

It was like this... This is why I started

to find this feminist art really problematic,

that it had to do with female biology

rather than a maybe...

a bigger expression.

But Carolee Schneemann said it all.

Yeah. That it was very difficult

then for other young artists to explore their bodies

after her.

Schneemann: There's always been so much conflict about my work,

and when my work would be censored,

I was always astonished,

so when I did my self-shot erotic film "Fuses,"

which I thought must be a breakthrough

for heterosexual experience, women were horrified.

Some, not all, but some said, "You know,

you're playing into the worst prurient fantasies of men here."


♪ And me and my head after

♪ There's definitely, definitely, definitely ♪

♪ No logic

♪ To human behavior

As you can see here...


you can see by the shape of the hand

and the shape of the arm...

that it is the room of a child.

And so you see all the hourglass,

some work and some do not work too well.

Some do not work at all.

But this one is concerned.

The cooking of an egg make us think of the measuring of time,

which has to do obviously with far-away memories,

closer memories, forgotten memories,

detestable memories, and wonderful memories.

They're all there.

Is it a matter of minutes?

Is it a matter of years, centuries, half a century,

three quarters of a century?

You know, children, they are always

complaining that everything is wrong

because their parents did this, their parents did that,

so my answer as a parent is, "Ha, I do what I can.

I never promised you a rose garden."

This is it. This is why the rose is here.

I think that there's an aspect of fear.

I think one has to look at this very closely,

that the desire to suppress the reality

that every human being comes out of a woman's body,

and every human being is dependent on that body,

or someone else's body,

to take care of us during infancy, is a big fear.

You know, I think a great deal of Western culture

has been hard at work trying to suppress this reality.





[ Laughs ]













♪ Bip, bip

♪ Bip, bip, bip, bip, bip

♪ Bip, mic check

[ Gun cocks ]

[ Gunshot ]

[ Gunshot ]


[ Loud footsteps ]


♪ Clap a hand now, people, clap now ♪

♪ Clap a hand now

♪ Clap your hands now, people, clap your hands ♪

♪ Clap your hands now, people, clap your hands ♪


♪ A little softer

♪ People get softer

♪ A little softer

♪ People get down

♪ A little softer

♪ People get softer

♪ A little softer

♪ People get down

♪ A little louder

♪ People get louder

My mother, when she started to collect seriously,

she realized that...

female art was less expensive, obviously,

and it was more approachable.

You could rather buy a piece by Louise Bourgeois or Eva Hesse,

than a male artist at that time,

and so she then...

And she also felt more closer to female artists,

and then decided, "Yeah, I continue."

And yeah, that was maybe the reason.

Yeah, I like that. It's a wonderful...

-Yes, this is very... -...very, very...

Pragmatic, in a way. Yes, yeah.

Yeah. Pragmatic, exactly,

but also reveals a lot of the history

of the 20th century, in a way. Yeah, yeah. Indeed.


Barlow: We had our income from our teaching,

even though it was difficult,

but that was what we had to work with.

And the idea then of trying to get a gallery or all that,

it just didn't come into it,

so in a certain way, there was a lot of freedom.

You know, I would make works which just would go somewhere,

and then I would forget about them

and they would eventually disappear.

Sort of 30 years of working in that way is a long time,

where there's... You're working with uncertainty the whole time.

I've only had two commissions ever for all these years.


Yeah, and one is from Edinburgh,

and the other was from

the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

And when I've had exhibits in the past,

all the works in the gallery say,

"Courtesy of the artist,

courtesy of the artist, courtesy of the artist."

And people say, "Well, where are the collectors?"

And, "Well, we don't have them yet."

Lee Krasner, you know, had a retrospective.

I mean, it's quoted in "The Blazing World."

Late in her life, they did a retrospective of her work,

and she is a great painter, at The Whitney,

and they very much wanted her to come to the opening,

and she looked at them, and she said, "It's too late.

It's too late.

I have... I'm all sympathy.

It's just too late."





History is not the story of progress.

I mean, I think this is something

that's very important to understand.

It's not just as if, in every field,

women are marching in a straight line ahead.

This is not the case.

It goes up and down, and it depends on the subculture.

I do think, however, that women are becoming

stronger and stronger in the art world,

and that, at some point, it will become irresistible.

The art is too good.

It's too interesting.

It's too diverse, so it will be very tough,

I think, to keep them out.


♪ Everybody plays a game

♪ We don't have to


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