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ARC & Woman Made Gallery on the Issue of Feminism

Feminism.

It’s a controversial word, and in today’s “post-feminist” society it’s a label many successful women shy away from. Beate Minkovski and Iris Goldstein are not among those women.

Since opening feminist gallery Woman Made in 1992, Minkovski, who is also the gallery’s executive director, has proven just how controversial the feminist label can be. Woman Made received death threats for their show, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, which displayed contemporary depictions of the Virgin Mary, while simultaneously addressing social issues such as abortion, gendered violence and animal cruelty.

Goldstein is the president of the less overtly political ARC, a woman-run cooperative founded in 1973.

“In the ‘70s the mission [of ARC] was really to give women more of a chance to show in the art world because they were discriminated against,” says Goldstein. “Women can run a gallery. We are the people who are in charge. I think that’s been very appealing to women.”

ARC’s original message of empowerment and equality is still relevant today. Although 67% of students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are female, only 12 of the 34 galleries in River North are run solely by women, making a gallery like ARC surprisingly rare.

However, for ARC, being a feminist space is not equated with being a woman’s space.

“We’re interested in art, not women’s art. It’s not that we show feminist art or art that’s done by women,” Goldstein explains. “What we’re interested in is quality art and there isn’t a difference [between men and women artists]. I think some feminists would make an argument that the point of view of women would be different from that of men. I don’t see it as vastly different.”

Goldstein may see men’s and women’s art as one and the same, but Minkovski feels otherwise.

“Artists, male or female, come from different experiences and experiences feed the outcome, feed the visual,” says Minkovski. “Take the nude. That is so unendingly a subject matter for males. They need to do that because it satisfies something in them. I have not seen women do nude men unendingly.”

While ARC’s feminist goals revolve around giving women the power to decide what they want to display, Woman Made shows, well, the woman-made. The gallery hosts shows which display pieces tied to the artist’s identity as a woman and works portraying women’s experiences in arenas such as the international community, student life or activist life (as reflected in three exhibits shown at Woman Made earlier this year).

“Woman Made fills a niche that is important, not just now, but also for the future,” states Minkovski. “It’s almost like saying, African American galleries: are they necessary or not? Will they ever not be necessary? When men say, ‘Why? It’s all the same? Why can’t I show my work?’ we used to say ‘You have the whole world where you can show.’”

Although Woman Made’s priority is providing a platform for women’s artistic perspective, they have offered men a voice in the conversation. A past show, Men Define the Feminine, allowed men to present their interpretation of femininity. This November, for the second time in the 18 years it’s been open, the gallery will continue to incorporate the male viewpoint with Girl: Please!, which will explore constructions and performance spanning the gender continuum and will be the first Woman Made show ever to have a male juror.

Nevertheless, the purpose of Woman Made remains unchanged by the male voices that come and go. “There are not many places where women can express what they distinctly have to say, which was specifically not included, because it’s either boring or decorative or unimportant to bigger issues. So that’s why we’re here. Because it is important.”

Unimportant art would not be nearly as political and contentious as that which Woman Made has chosen to show. Along with Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, past show titles include Menarche: Menses, Menopause and Blood and The Female Gaze, which highlighted the vast difference between male and female depictions of the body.

Since first opening their doors in 1992, Woman Made has displayed over 6,500 women, including work by Judy Chicago, the Grande Dame of the feminist art movement, who also serves on the gallery’s advisory board. Considering her credentials, it’s hardly surprising that when asked about Woman Made’s identity as a feminist gallery, Minkovski stated “You cannot leave out the F-word, can you? We are definitely aligning with the feminist movement and we are inspired by them. That will never end. And for us the word ‘feminist’ is a compliment.”

Woman Made is located at 685 North Milwaukee Ave. It is open from Wednesday through Friday from 12 to 7 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 4 pm. ARC is located at 832 W. Superior St. #204. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 to 6 pm and Sunday from 12 to 4 pm.