A New Gallery Show Scrutinizes the Legacies of Anti-Feminist Women, From Ayn Rand to Kellyanne Conway
Michelle Vaughan's "A Movement of Women" features 40 portraits of conservative women paired with some of their more questionable quotes.
On August 26, 2020 the United States celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which ended the decades-long fight by suffragists for women to be allowed to vote. In her latest exhibition, opening at Brooklyn-based Theodore: Art to coincide with the occasion, the artist Michelle Vaughan is looking at feminist history. But instead of celebrating those who led the fight for equality, she’s taking a hard look at some of the women who have held it back.
“A Movement of Women” features pastel portraits of some 40 women culled from the pantheon of conservative activism. Some are luminaries of a previous generation of anti-feminist women, like singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, author and “objectivist” philosopher Ayn Rand, and anti-Equal Rights Amendment campaigner Phyllis Schlafly (recently also examined in the Hulu series Mrs. America). Others, like Betsey DeVos, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Kellyanne Conway, are familiar from recent headlines.
Why train the spotlight on such figures? Vaughn tells Artnet News that the project actually began back in 2016, when history-making candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election. When post-election analysis revealed that educated white women had voted for Trump—even after the infamous Access Hollywood tape—she decided to look into conservative women, to “unravel what looked to me like a giant paradox.”
The show is presented as a genuine investigation, amassing a huge reserve of information about conservative women including a research library and archival materials in addition to the 40 pastels.
Perhaps the most striking components of the show are the quotes Vaughan selected, presented as letterpress prints painstakingly hand-set on decidedly feminine-pink office paper, and juxtaposed with the beaming portraits. Each picks out one of the more despicable quips associated with the women in question.
The more outrageous might sound like raw material for SNL skits or Twitter memes—e.g. Ann Coulter declaring, “[i]t would be a much better country if women did not vote.” Vaughn wants viewers to really scrutinize the words and the faces behind them and “ponder the complexities of American political history.”
“Michelle Vaughan: A Movement of Women” is on view at Theodore:Art in Brooklyn from August 26–October 22, 2020. Before the show opens, prints are available at a discounted price of $80 (originally $100).
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