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Maryam Hoseini, Private Quarter (Midnight-Midday) & Private Quarter (Sunset-Sunrise), 2021

There’s a wonderful quote tucked early in writer and curator Lucy Lippard’s essay for the 1971 Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum show she curated, Twenty Six Contemporary Women Artists:

I have no clear picture of what, if anything, constitutes “women’s art,” although I am convinced that there is a latent difference in sensibility …. After selecting this show from hundreds of possibilities, I was aware of a strong personal identification with work by women, but as yet I hesitate to draw any conclusions from it…

It’s a thought that stayed with me as I walked through 52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone, also at the Aldrich. Organized by the museum’s senior curator, Amy Smith-Stewart, along with Alexandra Schwartz and Caitlin Monachino, the exhibition reflects on and re-examines Twenty Six Contemporary Women Artists. More than 50 years later, it represents most of the original artists, in many cases showing the same work as well as more recent pieces, along with 26 new artists. As a show in 1971 that exclusively featured women and that grew out of Lippard’s then-nascent feminist consciousness, it was a landmark. In this 2022 iteration, the additional artists are all female or nonbinary, and none have had major US solo museum exhibitions as of March 1, 2022 (echoing a similar constraint used in 1971).


Visitors could easily walk into each room at the Aldrich and pick out a common thread, only to have that commonality challenged. For instance, Loie Hollowell’s “Empty Belly” (2021), in the lobby, evokes the maternal breast and demands on the mothering body, and Cynthia Carlson’s “Untitled Inscape #1” (1970), even without using literal representations of the body, strongly conjures the constant experience of femme bodies being examined, explored, and pulled apart. Then, in a nearby gallery, works by Hannah Levy, Erin M. Riley, Anna Park, and Maryam Hoseini play with or directly reference flesh and sexuality, as well as pleasure and violence. Seeing these works, viewers might be tempted to develop a narrative about the body being central to the art in the show. 

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