If Pop art by women artists was hardly ever simply Pop, what was it?
Keep Right, Sister Corita, 1967
Unlike the previous macho AbEx generation, which also counted female artists like Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler, and Elaine de Kooning, the Pop movement, strictly speaking, did not have high-profile female participation. Marisol, Strider, and Sturtevant were sometimes included in Pop group shows in New York, but they never wholly fit. Pop art was about banality, disaffection, and detachment, and the ideas of the women artists diametrically opposed these themes. Philosophically liberated, they thought for themselves, radicalized their art, and imploded the meaning of Pop.
If Chryssa was Pop because she used neon, does that mean Dan Flavin was too? If Vija Celmins was Pop, wasn’t she at the same time a budding photorealist? If Yayoi Kusama was Pop, what do we make of her phallic obsessions and cosmic polka dots? If Niki de Saint Phalle was Pop, where do her big folk-art mamas fit? And if Lee Lozano’s pre-conceptual work and Faith Ringgold’s pre-quilt paintings can be dragged into the orbit of Pop, we can only throw up our hands and conclude that we desperately need a more descriptive term.
Women’s Pop-related art had its own intentions. It could be about obsession, cosmic design, or, in the case of Marisol, folk arts and crafts. Usually it opposed or dissected the male gaze. The male artists may have been content to flirt with post-industrial Minimalism, but back in the days when femininity equaled domesticity, Martha Rosler mailed out a series of narrative recipes. They involved, for example, the dislocations of a Mexican maid who didn’t have a clue as to what a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was, and pieced together images of suburban kitchens invaded by the horrors of the Vietnam war. On the other hand, Warhol, whose latent political content went unremarked for years, didn’t do decorative camouflage painting until the 1980s.