The Every Woman Biennial Is a Supportive, Salon-Style Celebration of the ‘Divine Feminine’

Over 2,000 turned out for the opening, which featured art from women and non-binary artists from across the country.

Stefania Tejada, Amazonas. Photo courtesy of the Every Woman Biennial.

Traffic slowed to a standstill on New York’s Great Jones Street on Sunday as over 2,000 art lovers thronged La MaMa Galleria, waiting for their chance to see the Every Woman Biennial. Hung salon style across two venues were work by hundreds of female and non-binary artists, from the emerging to well-known figures including Deborah Kass and Marilyn Minter.

The exhibition was founded in 2014 by artist Christine “C” Finley as the Whitney Houston Biennial—a cheeky rebuttal to that year’s Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which had less than a third female artists.

“My goal is to highlight how many amazing women and non-binary artists there are,” Finley told artnet News. “I love salon style, and I love art to feel more like a party.”

To that end, the opening featured an energetic flash mob, with dancers crowding the sidewalk outside the exhibition to perform a choreographed routine set to Houston’s 1987 hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” Across the street, firefighters squeezed out onto the balcony of the fire house to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.

Genevieve Cohn, <em>Women Like You Build Bowers</em>. Courtesy of the artist.

Genevieve Cohn, Women Like You Build Bowers. Courtesy of the artist.

Inside, there were artworks as far at the eye could see: photographs, paintings, videos, and sculpture, all from women and non-binary artists.

There was a remarkably artistic bit of Game of Thrones fan art from Maghen Brown illustrating various dramatic events from the series; a large canvas with colorful, almost Gauguin-esque female figures by Genevieve Cohn, and even a Swarovski crystal-studded tribute to the event’s former namesake, embellishing a photo of Houston from one of her hit singles by Alex Nuñez.

The opening was the culmination of months of work for Finley, who along with a small but tireless team worked 15 hours a day the last 11 days to bring the exhibition together. And the work isn’t over: The Los Angeles edition is still on the horizon, set to open next month.

The New York team was adding artists until the last minute, when a local East Village painter admitted she had missed the application deadline due to a death in the family, but still wanted to take part.

“My goal is to be an inclusive and rainbow as humanly possible,” said Finley. Participants range from a  13-year old trans girl from Colorado to a 90-year-old in Los Angeles who read about the exhibition in the New York Times. “She said she had been waiting for something like this her whole life, so I put her in the Los Angeles show.”

Deborah Kass, Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner (2009). Courtesy of the Every Woman Biennial.

Deborah Kass, Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner (2009). Courtesy of the Every Woman Biennial, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Anyone who applied was welcome, excluding works with a hateful message or featuring naked headless women. “My job was to find space for the artists and hang it with as much professional courtesy to make everyone feel represented, whether they’re a Sunday painter or Mickalene Thomas,” Finley added. “I think it came together really well.”

There’s also an extremely ambitious film festival component, featuring 100 filmmakers from 29 countries. artnet News caught just one, Maxi Cohen’s Ladies Rooms Around the World, a short film in which the artist interviews women in bathrooms in such diverse locations as New Orleans, the Australian outback, and the Cannes Film Festival.

Artwork by Angela Fraleigh. Courtesy of the Every Woman Biennial.

Artwork by Angela Fraleigh. Courtesy of the Every Woman Biennial.

“I had been thinking for years what would happen if the world knew the secrets of women,” said Cohen in a short Q&A following the screening. In the intimate space of the restroom, her subjects speak frankly about intimate subjects including rape, incest, and sex toys, creating a troubling yet widely relatable portrait.

It was a piece that spoke to the ethos of the event, which was all about creating a safe space for female creativity, and “a celebration of the divine feminine,” said Finley. “A lot of people cried when they thanked me, because they’ve never been part of something like this.”

The Every Women Biennial is on view at La MaMa Galleria, 47 Great Jones Street, New York, and 222 Bowery, New York, May 19–29. The Los Angeles edition will be on view at the Bendix Building, 1206 Maple Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 3–12. 

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