I am pleased and honored to present feminist art historian Margo Hobbs, who served as president of WCA from 2018 to 2020. Dr. Hobbs initiated and organized the Art Writers Committee, which is how I met her and experienced her exemplary leadership. This interview is part of the WCA Leadership Project in celebration of the organization’s fiftieth anniversary, one of the initiatives of the Art Writers Committee, and part of her WCA legacy. In our conversation Dr. Hobbs shares her memories and experiences about her career and WCA.
Dr. Hobbs is Art Department Chair and Professor of Art and Art History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. She teaches courses in modern and contemporary art, women and art, and African American art. Prior to teaching at Muhlenberg, she taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Bucknell University, the University of Notre Dame, Illinois State University, and the University of Vermont. Dr. Hobbs earned her B.A., at St. John’s College, an M.A., from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her Ph.D., from Northwestern University. Her research focuses on feminist art and artists of the 1970s and 1980s, with a particular interest in representing identity in photography. She has also written about graffiti art and public sculpture.
MKM: Were you always interested in art?
MH: I was always interested in art, but I realized early on that I didn’t have the discipline needed to really master a medium and work independently. I was interested in talking to my artist friends about their process, and I thought working in a gallery would be fun. (When I was in college, the ambitious young art dealer Mary Boone was on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Magazine. My roommate and I decided we wanted to be her.) After college, I moved to Santa Fe and found a job as the registrar of a gallery selling sophisticated paintings, sculpture, and works on paper by local artists. I loved the small city art scene but after a few years I wanted more intellectual stimulation. I decided to pursue an MA in modern art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Working as a TA for the art history faculty, I discovered that I enjoyed teaching along with the research and writing, and so I applied to Northwestern to pursue a Ph.D. to become a college professor.
MKM: Do you have any memorable teachers, mentors, role models?
MH: Artist Tee A. Corinne took me under her wing early in the process of researching my dissertation on vaginal imagery in 1970s feminist art. She was the author of The Cunt Coloring Book—published in 1975 and still in print—which was a key work for my analysis. We met on the Feminist Art History listserv and she graciously shared her own archives, talked through my ideas with me, and connected me with other lesbian feminist artists whose work I would discuss—she knew everyone. I remember her introducing me around at a reception for the CAA Queer Caucus, “This is Margo, who I believe is heterosexual…” Her seal of approval was crucial for me to make connections with artists whose work was barely archived, much less the subject of much scholarship in the mid-1990s—such as Harmony Hammond. After completing my dissertation, I published an article on Tee’s graphics made for lesbian feminist ‘zines in GLQ: The Gay and Lesbian Quarterly which pleased her. And she was the impetus for my recent research on the feminist photography annual The Blatant Image (1981-1983), which originated in the feminist photography “ovulars” which were held on women’s land in Southern Oregon where she lived.
MKM: How has your work changed over time?
MH: My work has changed over time in two important ways: I have embraced my identity as a queer woman and consequently my research feels more personal, and I have learned from the examples of other queer art historians to have more confidence in my scholarly pursuits.
It might seem odd that a straight woman would take up the topic of vaginal imagery for her dissertation topic. One of the faculty on my dissertation committee, responding to my thesis proposal, scoffed that to study 1970s feminist art without taking up so-called “central core” imagery “was just pussy-footing around” (“so to speak,” said my advisor). I took his advice, and developed a thesis that the act of looking at vaginal imagery destabilized a straight female viewer’s identity in a performative sense. Little did I know. A little more than 10 years after finishing my thesis, I fell in love with a woman, realized I had been yearning for that experience my whole life, and never looked back. My desire to make visible artists working at the intersection of feminist and queer art feels urgent and deeply satisfying.
In the midst of that existential crisis of sexual awakening, I began to work on an article on The Blatant Image and the representations of lesbian identity scattered through its pages. I think the draft I sent the editors, Christopher Reed and Jongwoo Jeremy Kim, was a mess of half-baked, theory-driven analysis. They tactfully focused my thesis, offered more nuanced reads of the images, and suggested cuts. From Chris, I learned to think about archives as places where ideas could germinate, not as repositories of illustrations for preconceived notions. From Jongwoo, I was encouraged to think more queerly and creatively as I formulate ideas, to resist fixing meanings.
MKM: What work do you most enjoying doing – teaching or writing?
MH: As much as I enjoy researching and writing, I earned my degree in order to teach and I’m passionate about that. I want to share my conviction that works of art are inexhaustible. In talking about an artwork, you necessarily limit yourself by attending to certain issues or questions while excluding others. Words and visual expression are incommensurable—otherwise artists would just explain their ideas. I want my students to get excited about what art can do aesthetically, culturally, politically. I want them to be able to mine the past for creative solutions to persistent problems, to find themselves in historical works. Over time, I’ve become less invested in imparting art historical knowledge to students and more interested in teaching them the skills to find information, analyze visual evidence, and generate their own ideas.
MKM: I think the talent and skills that make you a successful teacher also madeyou a great leader.For you, what was the most important thing you accomplished as WCA president?
MH: The most important thing I accomplished was after my term as president, when I reached out to all the self-identifying art writers in the member directory and organized the Art Writers Committee. I didn’t have a particular agenda in mind beyond figuring out how to make the organization more relevant for people like me—feminist art historians working in the academy. To be honest, I’m not sure that WCA is my best fit as an academic and the faculty members of the AWC have participated less over time. But the group has accomplished a compelling reboot of the WCA blog, Art Insights, a transformation in process of the WCA publication Art Lines, and the WCA Leadership Interview Project for our 50th anniversary. My part in this has been to convene regular meetings, facilitate constructive discussion, identify initiatives and steps toward accomplishing them, and stay out of the way. Moving forward, I believe that the AWC will be the place where members engage with important developments in the contemporary art world while maintaining a commitment to highlighting women’s voices.
MKM: Art is the focus of your professional life, at homedo you maintain any collections or live with other artists’ artwork?
MH: When I worked at the gallery in Santa Fe, I did a quick favor for one of the artists we represented, and in return she gifted me a small monoprint of hers. Several artists graciously allowed me to choose a small work from their solo exhibitions at the gallery, and some works I purchased over time from my employer with deductions from my small paycheck. These gifts and purchases from artist friends are precious reminders of that time in my life when I was beginning to find my way. Working as a professor in various art departments, I’ve acquired works from my brilliantly talented colleagues and students. And during my time on the WCA Board, I’ve added to my collection works by artists whom I admire tremendously—Linda Stein, Margaret Parker, Rosalind Bloom. Nothing makes me happier than looking at the art in my home and thinking about the connections I have with the people who created it.
As a feminist art historian and former WCA President, I am honored and delighted to have had the opportunity to interview art historian Mary D. Garrard as part of the WCA Leadership Interview Project. Dr. Garrard shared her thoughts about the Caucus’ founding and its early years, WCA’s relationship to CAA, feminist art history, and leadership.
Mary D. Garrard was the second president of WCA from 1974 to 1976. She is an art historian specializing in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, who earned her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, her MA at Harvard, and her BA at Newcomb College. She is an expert on the work of Artemisia Gentileschi and has written four books on the painter; the most recent is Artemisia Gentileschi and Feminism in Early Modern Europe (Reaktion Books, 2020). With feminist art historian Norma Broude, Dr. Garrard has edited three essential anthologies of feminist art historical writing, beginning with Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, published in 1982.
Dr. Garrard is professor emerita at American University in Washington, DC, where she taught from 1964 to 2003. American University honored her and Dr. Broude in 2010 with the inaugural Feminist Art History Conference, “Continuing the Legacy: Honoring the Work of Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard.” The conference has continued to be held; the seventh was online this past September. (It’s a wonderful conference, where scholars from undergraduate to senior faculty present groundbreaking feminist work.) Dr. Garrard has been recognized with a WCA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, the CAA Committee on Women in the Arts (with Norma Broude) for their “pioneering feminist scholarship” in 2000, and the Virginia chapter of the National Organization of Women for “scholarly and professional contributions to the history of women in the arts” (also with Norma Broude).
Visualizing what it means to be a person of color…
By Marianne McGrath
What an honor to interview artist Linda Vallejo! This interview is part of a series of interviews organized by the WCA Art Writers Group to highlight past leaders of Women’s Caucus for Art in celebration of our 50th Anniversary. Linda is one of the recipients of the 2022 Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award. The Award recognizes the contributions of women to the arts and their profound effect on society. It honors the recipient’s work, their vision, and their commitment.
Linda Vallejo creates work that investigates contemporary cultural and political issues, visualizing what it means to be a person of color in the United States. Linda says that these works reflect what she calls her “brown intellectual property” — the experiences, knowledge, and feelings gathered over more than four decades of study of Latino, Chicano, and American indigenous culture and communities.
As the daughter of an Air Force officer, Linda moved many times during her childhood. From Los Angeles, where she was born, to Germany, Sacramento, and eventually to Montgomery, Alabama where she began high school “in an era defined by segregation, the Selma marches, and the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” She says, “it was then that I began to realize that skin color was a defining factor in how the world judges you and fixes your place in it.”
After a few years her family relocated again to Madrid, Spain, where she completed high school and she had the opportunity to explore art and architecture, as well as other modes of creative expression. Linda says, “I delighted in family visits to ancient Roman sites and Europe’s great museums. I was in pursuit of a language that could express universal equality, acceptance, and appreciation.” In 1969 Linda returned to Los Angeles to attend Whittier College, where she received her bachelor’s degree. She went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking at California State University, Long Beach.
Over the course of her long and prolific career,Linda’s work has been included in more than 100 group exhibitions, twenty solo exhibitions and can be found in the permanent collections of several Museums. Her solo exhibitions include LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes; Kean University: Karl & Helen Burger Gallery, Union, New Jersey; Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, CA; bG Gallery, Santa Monica; Texas A&M University Reynolds Gallery; Bert Green Fine Art, Chicago Il; UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, Los Angeles, CA; Lancaster Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA; the Soto Clemente Velez Cultural Center, New York; George Lawson Gallery, Los Angeles; University Art Gallery of New Mexico State University; Arte Americas in collaboration with the Fresno Art Museum and Central California Museum of Art Advisory Committee; and California State University, San Bernardino, Fullerton Museum of Art.
Linda’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach, CA; the Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA; Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; East Los Angeles College Vincent Price Museum, Los Angeles CA; National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago Il; Carnegie Art Museum, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, CA; UC Santa Barbara, California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), Santa Barbara, CA; UCLA Chicano Study Research Center (CSRC), Los Angeles, CA; the California Digital Library; and the Arizona State University Library Archives.
Her most recent solo exhibition Brown Belongings was featured in the New York Times “Visualizing Latino Populations Through Art” by Jill Cowan, New York, NY (November 26, 2019) and in The Los Angeles Times “Linda Vallejo and a decade of art that unapologetically embraces brownness” by Matt Stromberg (June 20, 2019).Upcoming 2022 shows include University of British Colombia Museum of Anthropology and the National Hispanic Cultural Center in New Mexico where Make ‘Em All Mexican and The Brown Dot Project will be featured.
In the months ahead my blog posts will feature interviews with past leaders of Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) in celebration of the WCA 50th Anniversary. The interviews are part of a project of the WCA Art Writer’s Committee, which produces Artlines and the WCA website blog Art Insights. WCA leadership will also be recognized at our February 2022 conference in Chicago: Occupy the Moment: Embracing our History, Enhancing our Impact.
It is fitting that my first interview in this series is with Ann Sutherland Harris – she was the first president of the Women’s Caucus for Art and a founding member. Ann is a scholar, curator, author and activist. Using FaceTime for conversation and email correspondence, I was able to interview Ann as she shared some significant memories from her life about becoming a feminist art historian. It was an honor to have this opportunity and I want to express my sincere appreciation to her for her time and participation in this WCA Anniversary project.
Over the course of her career, Ann has written nine books and exhibition catalogues, more than a hundred articles and reviews, and participated in dozens of lectures and panels. As an educator for almost five decades, she taught at Columbia University; Hunter College, CUNY; and State University of New York, Albany, before joining the University of Pittsburgh as a full professor in 1984; she retired in 2012. Her awards include fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Endowment of the Humanities; the National Endowment for Art; and the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art. Ann is a WCA Lifetime Achievement Awardee (2005), the recipient of honorary doctorates, as well as Mademoiselle Magazine Woman of the Year (with Linda Nochlin, 1977) and Pittsburgh YWCA Woman of the Year in the Arts (1986).
17th century European painting and sculpture are Ann’s main scholarly focus, especially Italian paintings and drawings, although her research, teaching and curatorial projects have included other subjects and time periods. Ann earned her BA at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, graduating with first class honors in 1961, as well as her Ph.D. in 1965. Andrea Sacchi was the subject of her dissertation; her 1977 monograph on Sacchi is considered one the best studies of that 17th century painter. Ann has also published documents about, and identified drawings by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Carracci, Pier Francesco Mola and Pietro Testa, among others. Her book, Seventeenth-Century Art and Architecture (London: Laurence King), 2005; 2nd ed., 2008, was a highly regarded survey of the seicento, but is now out of print. Ann is currently working on a monograph of all the drawings of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which she hopes to finish next year.
Ann says that she “has always believed that the study of any artist should include their drawings. When such studies survive and can be connected with known paintings, they reveal not only the artists’ preliminary ideas, but also changes made either to please patrons or satisfy the artist.” To her “an unidentified 17th century drawing is an orphan seeking a home under the right name.” She even owns a few such orphans herself that she still hopes to identify.
I first became familiar with the name Ann Sutherland Harris in graduate school during a course devoted to women artists – her trailblazing work was the foundation for our class. In 1976-77 Ann organized the groundbreaking exhibition Women Artists, 1550-1950, co-curated with Linda Nochlin, which presented the work of eighty three women artists from twelve countries. The show traveled across the United States from Los Angeles and Austin to Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, bringing wide public attention to women artists and gender issues that had been previously left out of the discourse of art history. The exhibition and the 367-page catalogue (I have one on my shelf!) changed art history. Today that mission of equality and inclusion is supported by many art historians, as the work for and about women artists is not yet finished. And Ann herself has continued to write about women artists past and present, such as Artemisia Gentileschi and Alice Neel.
Ann Sutherland Harris was born on Nov. 4, 1937, in Cambridge, UK. Her Scottish father, Sir Gordon B. B. M. Sutherland, was an accomplished physicist. A fellow of Pembroke College and Master of Emmanuel, Cambridge, his research focused on spectroscopy. Her Swedish mother, Gunborg Wahlström (Lady Sutherland), met her father when she came to Cambridge to work as a baby nurse for a Swedish woman married to a colleague of her father. Ann says her mother was a great cook, made beautiful clothes for her daughters, and could fix anything in the house. Education was important to both of her parents.
When asked I asked how she first became interested in art, Ann explained: “I was made aware of painting as a career very early because my Swedish grandfather, Filip Wahlström, was an artist. He painted many portraits and views of the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) and other places in Sweden. My sisters and I stayed with them twice for the summer months and I saw his studio, works in process, and finished works in their house that had walls painted yellow and other colors I had never seen indoors before! On the last visit before we went to America, I climbed up on the rocks overlooking the entrance to the harbor and made a painting of the view. I remember adding touches of yellow here and there at the end, and when I showed it to the grown-ups, they praised my technique. I thought the word must mean using yellow!”
Ann and her family lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan during part of her youth; she attended Wellesley College as a freshman. It was at Wellesley that she took her first art history class and fell in love with the subject. After her first year of college, her family returned to the UK and Ann enrolled at The Courtauld Institute – the rest is (art) history… and an autobiography that I hope Ann will someday write!
An Interview with Ann Sutherland Harris
MKM: What motivates your work as an art historian?
ASH: Nothing motivates me more than seeing a fine artist’s name being attached to works that are not by them. I believe it is my job to protect the reputation of the artists on whom I have published monographs or substantial articles. I have written complete or partial biographies of several Italian artists – Andrea Sacchi, Andrea Camassei, Pietro Testa, Pier Francesco Mola – none familiar names to the general public. A mistaken attribution may be below the level of quality of an artist whose work I know well: sometimes it may be a good work, but not by this hand. These attributions come from owners of drawings with ambitious attributions written on them (most artists in my period did not sign their drawings), or hopeful attributions written on the back of the canvas [and do have a chance sometimes], or are on the painting itself. Even these are sometimes added afterwards, and are not common on Italian seicento (17th century) paintings, though they are often found on Dutch painters’ works. I always study artists’ drawings as well as their paintings or sculptures, when possible, as they allow us to see them thinking through the process from start to finish.My role as a biographer of an artist is to identify and document as many of their works as possible and to describe the techniques, stylistic habits, mannerisms, color preferences, typical types of figures, etc. so that others can recognize this artist’s work when an unknown example emerges from attics or museum storage. For example, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1654) is much in the news now because many museums and collectors would like to have a work by her. The only complete study of her work was published in 1999 (by R. Ward Bissell), but new attributions keep emerging. Bissell listed 108 works by her recorded in old inventories that cannot be matched to works known today. Everyone agrees that many of these “new” works are probably not by her but there is rarely unanimous agreement about the most plausible candidates. I find this all fascinating! I also believe that it is important not to clutter up her production with paintings that fall short of her well-established levels of quality.
MKM: Is there a piece of research or writing that you are most proud of?
ASH: Yes – my survey of 17th century art and architecture in Italy, Spain, France, Holland and England. The only books available for my students covered both the 17th (Baroque) and 18th (Rococo) centuries but that meant very thin coverage of the many wonderful painters, sculptors and architects who transformed European art in the 1600 hundreds. I decided to study 17th century Italian art rather than any period of the Renaissance when I was a student at the Courtauld Institute because the centuries 1300 – 1600 had already been studied by scholars since the nineteen twenties. This was not true of the 17th century where many excellent artists had never been the subject of a monograph (art historian’s term for a biography).
MKM: Outside of art history, what are some works of art from literature, music, or film, that are important to you?
ASH: I love good movies, and classical music, especially J. S. Bach [I am a mediocre pianist], and chamber music rather than symphonies. I used to read a novel or two in the summer. Now I am more likely to read autobiographies. I also have a garden to care for which is both rewarding and frustrating.
MKM: In addition to your work as a scholar, you have curated several exhibitions. Can you please tell us about your most memorable experience from curating the ground-breaking exhibition, Women Artists: 1550-1950?
ASH: Where to begin?! The opening at the Brooklyn Museum in 1977 was amazing – huge crowds, and I arrived in a limousine with Philippe de Montebello, then the Director of the Metropolitan Museum, where I had a job for a while. The opening in LA was much quieter but attendance soon grew to records. Memorable too were some of the responses from curators to whom we wrote to ask for loans . . . “Why do you want to show so many women’s works together? Do you think they’ll all look alike?”
MKM: If you were organizing/curating an exhibition today, which artists (living or dead) would you like to show?
ASH: I think that Diane Samuels, an artist who lives in Pittsburgh, ought to be far better known. She has done some wonderful installations – one for Brown [University] in Providence, RI (a covered glass bridge between science buildings with quotes from scientists of the past, many suggested by students). Occasionally I have thought that an exhibition of artists’ portraits of their parents would be an unusual but revelatory. Alice Neel’s moving paintings of her mother would be in it but I recall seeing other examples that seemed among the best works by the artist in question . . . I should have taken notes!
MKM:Along with your work as a scholar and curator, you are celebrated for your feminist activisim. Over the course of your career, you served on several university committees concerned with the status of women, in 1970 you testified before the U.S. Congress Special House Subcommittee on Education in support of women’s equal rights in higher education, and you advised the establishment of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. You have been a champion of women on many occasions and in many ways. What strategy do you think best enables the women’s movement to continue to break down white male hegemony? Are there particular genres that you find are best suited for this task – such as the visual arts, performance, social activism, or writing?
ASH: They are all good . . . every time a woman does something amazing like getting a Nobel prize and it gets press coverage, it’s good for all women, especially in male-dominated professions.
Wherever we see an obvious discrimination against having women in positions of power or influence etc., we should speak up and at least point out the problem. I once threatened to come up on the stage and give the commencement address myself at a meeting of women concerned with women’s situations at Pitt – available childcare etc. Well, goodness me, the next graduation had a woman give the address! But not since, I think. The situation for women in higher education has changed enormously to our benefit since I and some other women made a fuss in 1958 (Columbia Women’s Liberation, we called our small group . . .) but salary differences persist, and of course those of us in the “humanities”, popular with women, earn a lot less than scientists, who are usually male. I also think that the focus on the situation of people of color in education at all levels is more deserving of focus and change now. This involves both sexes, obviously.
MKM: What are the specific spaces, be they academic, political, or otherwise, you deem imperative for us at this pivotal moment in history to occupy – to be agents of lasting change?
ASH: We always need to be alert and remember that now many – maybe most men – are feminists. My son spends as much time being a great father to his two daughters, and to cooking etc. as my daughter-in-law does. His father certainly didn’t! Still, it seems impossible for a woman to become President . . . I’d love to see Elizabeth Warren as President . . . but is this country ready for her?
MKM: Can you share a seminal experience of feminist activism?
ASH: Many . . . during the 1958 riots when students took over some of the dorms and classes were cancelled at Columbia, where I was an Assistant Professor, I was outside in the large plaza in front of the campus buildings and was standing near a cop in full masculine regalia on his motorcycle. “You work here?” he asked. I said yes. “You a professor? I said yes. Married?” I said yes. “I bet you have a lot of fights!” he said. I don’t think I responded but meeting me even briefly may have given him something to think about . . .
MKM: What would you like to impart to feminist art historians and artists today? What do you hope future generations will achieve? What should they know?
ASH: I really think that women have made so much progress compared with the world I knew in the nineteen sixties that I cannot think of anything. Women do not dominate the world of politics, but even here women like Nancy Pelosi and Stacey Abrams in Georgia are impressive political leaders in very challenging situations.
MKM: What did/do you most appreciate and enjoy as a member of WCA?
ASH: I love our awards ceremonies – so much fun and… moving.
MKM: What do you envision for the WCA community today, and in another 50 years?
ASH: No idea! I guess the WCA will go on as long as this national organization can link women artists with shared interests and goals, and a mutual interest in making sure our best artists get attention…
MKM: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
ASH: I tend to offer advice to others far too often so I often have to tell myself to shut up!
Ann Sutherland Harris’ review of Artemisia will be published in the Fall/Winter issue of Women’s Art Journal. To read the latest from Ann and learn more please visit: https://womansartjournal.org/42-2.php