Home Arts Gallery pays tribute to loss of abortion rights in the United States, 50 years after historic Roe v Wade ruling

Gallery pays tribute to loss of abortion rights in the United States, 50 years after historic Roe v Wade ruling

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In a better world, 2023 would have been the year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion, freeing women from the idea that childbearing was their destiny.

However, in a move that surprised many in the art world, the 1973 Roe v Wade decision was overturned last year. ” I can not believe it. It came out of the back of the room,” says Nancy Grossman, who was part of a prominent group of feminist artists in New York in the 1970s. “This world is just crazy. Regression is terrifying.

Grossman is best known for her leather-wrapped head sculptures, one of which is on display at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in Frieze New York this week. Following the Supreme Court ruling last year, the gallery has decided to dedicate its stand this year to works made during the Roe v Wade era. “We were moved by the deep dismay we felt at seeing this rapid return to an era of forced pregnancies and unsafe abortions,” says gallery director Halley Harrisburg.

Lenore Tawney made this untitled multimedia work in 1973, the same year as the Roe v Wade decision Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Alongside Grossman’s works are pieces by other prominent second-wave feminists, including Betye Saar, Lenore Tawney, Jay DeFeo, Lee Bontecou, ​​Alma Thomas, and Mary Bauermeister. Although not always directly political, their works are united by “an undercurrent of feminism, reflecting the ethos of the time in the subjects, materials and approaches chosen by the artists”, says Harrisburg. . Prices range from $7,500 to “in the millions”.

“I knew how women were meant to be, like children – seen and unheard”

Nancy Grossman, artist

Grossman remembers how, when she first made her head sculptures in the late 1960s, she hid them. “I didn’t show them to the dealers I had. I knew they would be misunderstood,” she says. Often making them blind and mute, she considers them self-portraits because “I had the impression at the time that you couldn’t say what you were thinking. It was so fascinating to me all my life; I knew how women were meant to be, like children – seen and unheard.

However, the sculptures carry a threat. “The head is where it all comes from, all the sex appeal, all the hostility, all the power,” Grossman says, but adds, “They didn’t have arms or legs. They didn’t have weapons. .

These guns were rendered in graphite instead. Two 1973 drawings by Grossman, of heads with guns protruding from eye sockets and noses, are also on display at the Michael Rosenfeld stand.

by Nancy Grossman gunhead seeing (1973)© Nancy Grossman, courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery


Author and activist Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel wrote an article, “We’ve Had Abortions,” which appeared in the first issue of SP. magazine in 1972, when abortions were still illegal. Grossman was among the long list of artists, writers, musicians and actors – including Susan Sontag and Nora Ephron – who signed the article; not all had aborted. “Artists were activists then, for real,” Grossman says.

So what is the place of activism in an art fair like Frieze New York? Harrisburg believes that “action on all fronts is needed” – from grassroots organizing to public policy to reproductive health education.

She says: “We hope the presentation will galvanize efforts to help those of childbearing age most at risk from this law as well as support for politicians who are working to quickly restore the rights that this disastrous legislation removed.

“What should have been the 50th anniversary of this huge victory for reproductive rights has instead been a tragic loss of bodily autonomy for millions of people across the country, many of whom have already suffered the mental and physical consequences of this decision. . ”

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