Larry and Debby Kline artists and provocateurs – installation, performances, and other works

Ms. Behavin’: Jewish Feminist Artists featuring Eleanor Antin, Judy Chicago, Vickie Leon, Helen Redman, Miriam Schapiro and Ruth Weisberg – curated by Debby and Larry Kline

Ms. Behavin': Jewish Feminist Artists

Ms. Behavin’: Jewish Feminist Artists

Curator’s statement

Much has been written about the feminist movement.  Some believe that feminists have become militant, while others believe that the activism has only begun.  Others still, are afraid that the apathy of a new generation has wormed its way into the forefront and that all of the gains, so difficult to achieve in the past half-century or so, may be lost.

Judaism reflects a multitude of belief systems.  A casual viewer may assume that the different sects are identical.  However the differences can set us apart and create division.  Activism unites us and brings tolerance, not just within Judaism but the global arena as well.  In the current climate of terrorism and renewed profiling, it is vital that we encourage activism and display it proudly.

Ms. Behavin’: Jewish Feminist Artists presents the work of Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Helen Redman, Eleanor Antin, Ruth Weisberg and Vicki Leon.  These women are activists, feminists, and Jews.  They are the cultural heirs to the women who fought for the right to vote, hold political office, become a Supreme court Judge or even become a Rabbi.  While we often take these positions for granted, the 19th Amendment (right for women to vote) was passed by Congress June 4, 1919.  Mississippi ratified it in 1984!

The art world is a microcosm of the world at large, and thus has historically perpetrated the same sexist inequities displayed in other institutions.   Art, however, remains a vehicle that transcends language to communicate ideas expeditiously and profoundly.   It was vital that women sought inclusion in the art world, so that they could voice their opinions and effect change.

Prior to our time, only a few women received recognition for their art works, and fewer still projected a female viewpoint.   The scale is still tipped in a masculine direction, but thanks to the work of a few undaunted women, the weight has shifted significantly.  The work of Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Ruth Weisberg, Eleanor Antin and Helen Redman are historically important.  The heritage of the feminist art genre is being passed to the next generation of women such as Vicki Leon through education and collaborations.  These artists are involved with women’s studies programs in colleges and universities and are ready to guide the steps of women who wish to follow a similar path.

Jewish women have been at the forefront of many political movements.  They may have vastly different interpretations of their Jewishness, but recognize that their heritage encourages them to fight for ethical treatment.  Jewish themes are frequently found in their work, in recognition of the parallels between the treatment of both Jews and women.  These women are survivors in desperate need of making society safe for future generations.

The title of this exhibition, Ms. Behavin’: Jewish Feminist Artists, relates to a time of flux and change, when women began to step outside of traditional roles.  Often, these heroic women were considered deviant, possibly heretical, or at the very least purveyors of anti-establishment behavior.

Persecution, incarceration and abuse were the early rewards for feminists believing in their cause.  In retrospect, we find this treatment abhorrent, yet our culture continues to ostracize people because of their beliefs or actions.  Everyone believes that they are above such vile practices, yet, when faced with new or unfamiliar practices, we are prone to condemn and harass.  Art and activism are the checks and balances for these human reactions.

The art world is still riddled with opposition to the notion of women’s art.  It is difficult for some to see art become personalized and gender specific.  Art for art’s sake was a mantra of the recent past, but art for women’s sake will be honored for structuring an environment that rewards their devotions.

It is our hope that all who experience these works will recognize how art interweaves with life, that the feminism of the art world initiated changes in the larger community, and that one voice can still change the world.  Moreover, we hope that this exhibition will rekindle a pride in being Jewish, engage your activism and inspire dialog with your children.

Debby Kline and Larry Kline



Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago is one of the most visible feminists from the 1970’s to the present. Born Judy Cohen, the artist changed her name to Judy Chicago in the early seventies to assume as identity that was uniquely hers. Chicago’s most notable works are The Dinner Party, The Birth Project and The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light.

The Holocaust Project becomes important in re-identifying Judy Chicago but her work regarding feminism cannot be ignored.  The Dinner Party was first shown at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, and over a million people have viewed this now historic work.

Ms. Chicago researches her subject matters intensely, sometimes not completing a piece for several years.  Her impact on the art world and feminism is unmistakable not only from her art, but also programs she has initiated centered on Feminist education, women’s art and women’s history.   

The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light

According to her biography, Judy Chicago was not schooled in Judaism.  She was taught to be proud of being Jewish, without knowing why.  It was only when Judy began to investigate the Holocaust that she began learning about her cultural identity.  The result of that eight-year journey is The Holocaust Project.

Ms. Chicago traveled extensively throughout Germany and to concentration camps.  She went to Israel and interviewed survivors and Rabbi’s while compiling journals of information.  Depression nearly overcame her while she was immersed in research, but ultimately she knew that the work must be completed for the generations that follow.  The completed exhibition was a multi-media installation that addressed horrific aspects of the Holocaust.  It is a visual memory of the atrocities of men and women who endured unthinkable acts.

The Rainbow Shabbat was Chicago’s final work in the series.  She created it as a legacy of peace, diversity and traditions.  It is the hope for our future.

Sappho Plate from The Dinner Party

Judy Chicago’s most notable work is The Dinner Party.  It is a celebration of female efforts and challenges.  Thirty-nine plates were created most of which represent historical female figures.  The plates are named as follows:

Primordial Goddess               Marcella                                    Anne Hutchinson

Fertile Goddess                     Saint Bridget                             Sacajawea

Ishtar                                        Theodora                                  Caroline Herschel

Kali                                           Hrosvitha                                  Mary Wollstonecraft

Snake Goddess                      Trotula                                      Sojourner Truth

Sophia                                      Eleanor of Aquitane               Susan B. Anthony

Amazon                                    Hildegarde of Bingen             Elizabeth Blackwell

Hatsheput                                 Petronilla de Meath                Emily Dickenson

Judith                                       Christine de Pisan                   Ethel Smyth

Sappho                                    Isabella d’Este                         Magaret Sanger

Aspasia                                   Elizabeth R                               Natalie Barney

Boadaceia                              Artemisia Gentileschi              Virgina Woolf

Hypatia                                    Anna van Schurman                 Georgia O’Keeffe

Each place setting includes a 14-inch, hand-painted china plate, sculpted in forms suggestive of flowers, female genitalia, or butterflies. Referring to the plates the artist states, “My images are about struggling out of containment, reaching out and opening up as opposed to masking or veiling.”  Her goals in creating the Dinner Party were, “…to end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women’s achievements are repeatedly written out of the historic record and a cycle of repetition that results in generation after generation of women struggling for insights and freedoms that are too often quickly forgotten or erased again.”

The plate titled Judith (not in the exhibition) was created in response to the Book of Judith.  She was a Jewish heroine, who slew an Assyrian general for his persecution, oppression and abuse of her townspeople.  The plate of Judith sits on a table runner that honors her bravery.

The Sappho plate (included in the exhibition) was reinterpreted by Judy Chicago and Vicky Leon in 1998.   Sappho was a poet, born on the island of Lesbos in approximately 612 B.C where women were educated and free to pursue their talents.  She who gives birth, has great power – was a guiding principle and religious festivals were centered around this way of living.  Sappho taught women art, poetry, music and dancing.  Greek statues were erected to her and her image was printed on their coins.  Her poems, which many thought equal to Homer’s, often expressed love for women (homosexuality in Greece was commonplace).  Sappho’s plate stands for the last time in history when women could freely use creative expression.  Sappho was later ridiculed and criminalized for her homosexuality and most of what she wrote was destroyed.

The Dinner Party is now part of the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art through a gift by Elizabeth Sackler.


Eleanor Antin

Eleanor Antin has an illustrious career in the arts including scores of international museum exhibitions and inclusion in events such as the Venice and Sydney Biennales.  Ms. Antin’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art,  Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and Los Angeles County Museum of Art to name a few.  She is not only an artist and filmmaker but also a writer and professor emeritus at UCSD.

Her films deal with ever-controversial issues of entitlement, racism and gender stereotyping through her inventions of characters.  She crosses the gender line by becoming The King of Solana Beach, the racial line in Eleanor Antinova and explores sexual stereotypes in The Adventures of a Nurse.

She has created works that address specifically Jewish themes, such as, The Man without a World and Vilna Nights.

Antin’s works are provocative and often challenge the viewer to confront their own beliefs and prejudices in a manner difficult to attempt through passive introspection.

Eleanor Antin is represented by Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

The Adventures of a Nurse

Although the 1960’s and early ‘70s were a time where peace and freedom were highly touted, women were still only encouraged to pursue certain types of employment.  A mother, teacher or nurse were acceptable vocations for nice young women. The Adventures of a Nurse is a direct link to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, but steeped in the stereotypes of the time.  Body image, dress, social actions all come into play in this classic film.


Ruth Weisberg

Ruth Weisberg’s figurative paintings have a translucent, veiled quality, reminiscent of past memories.  And like memory, some of the figures are clear and irrefutable, while others seem to elusively meld into the paint.  This layering allows us to glimpse into history, albeit not always in focus, and affords a depth that is very rare in contemporary paintings.  Weisberg also creates monotypes (a method of printing in which only one print is made).   The atmospheric conditions in her paintings are similar to monotype ghost prints (a second pull from that original printing plate); whereby most of the ink is gone but the second printing leaves secrets unseen in the first print.

Weisberg has created a series of works, titled the Open Door Haggadah.  The work reflects Weisberg’s own background in Judaism through realistic images postured within her stylistic, dramatic environments.  According to Donald Kuspit, “Diffuse depth and wide-awake concentration and will power compete and converge in Weisberg’s imagery.  The former is visible in her mystical atmosphere, the latter especially in her rendering of hands, which are not only carefully observed, but, we might say, piously observed.”

Ruth Weisberg is the Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California and is widely exhibited.  Ms. Weisberg has had over 70 solo and two person exhibitions including venues at: Spertus Museum, Chicago, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, Frye Art Museum, Seattle and the Huntington Library and Art Collections, San Marino, CA to name a few.  Most recently, Ms. Weisberg was featured in a film, “Ruth Weisberg: On the Journey” by Laura Vazquez.

Weisberg is represented by Jack Rutberg Gallery in Los Angeles.

Helen Redman

Helen Redman’s work reflects the cycles of life, a common theme in Judaism, which aids us in understanding these natural progressions. Introspection of her personal life has generated a prolific body of work, which follows series examining birth, death, growth and aging. Redman’s work in Ms. Behavin’ is culled from several bodies of work: Life Lore, Leaf Lore and Beauty of Old.

Ms. Redman is a mentor to women and provides lectures and seminars to discuss the various changes that women undergo.  Her seminars give attendees permission to ask questions and learn from Helen’s experience.

Ms. Redman’s work has been internationally exhibited at institutions such as, the Denver Art Museum, Salt Lake Art Center, Joslyn Art Museum and Le Centre Culturel Americain, in Paris.  She recently received an award from the Veteran Feminists of America and she co-founded Front Range Women in the Visual arts in Boulder, CO.

L’dor v’dor (from Generation to Generation)

In this installation, Helen Redman passes the metaphoric baton of activism, feminism and Jewish history to the younger generation of her granddaughter, Shira.   Through these works Redman faces her own mortality and contemplates the meaning of her entire body of artwork while Shira begins her journey and faces decisions about diametrically opposed topics such as, Orthodoxy, feminism and activism.

The use of hands in Redman’s works, as well as Weisberg’s, is plentiful and can stand for a woman’s touch, a helping hand or a caress offered to a loved one.  The hands exhibit strength and power as well as sensitivity and healing.  The hands that guided Shira as a child, now offer solace and a challenge to continue the legacy which the early feminists began.


Miriam Schapiro

Miriam Schapiro broke the ground for women in art.  Her background in abstract art, working exclusively among male artists, caused her to initiate questions centered around women in art.  Where were the women artists in museum collections?  Why weren’t women’s interests considered valid imagery for fine art?  She answered the questions by initiating intellectual investigation, building a community of women artists and the ultimate creation of feminist artwork.

Shapiro invented the word “femmage” to define work made by women and reflective of their culture (home hearth, nurturing and teaching) using icons from their personal lives.

Schapiro’s new direction in art weaves feminist issues and the inextricably linked politics into her work.  The Feminist art movement forces a side step in art; derailing stringent formalistic directions and forging a separate vision which is based solely on women.  It becomes the impetus for the Pattern and Decoration art movement and lays the groundwork for not only women, but men also began to create decorative work.

The heart and fan images are repeated throughout Schapiro’s work.  Often discussed in the art world as too sentimental, Schapiro counters, “By recognizing the heart as a mythical sign of ‘true romance’ sold to women in order to make them happy with their roles as procreators, I recognize my own ability to transform this heart sign into another symbol of power and victory. I do this by virtue of my talent as an artist.”1

The fan, like the heart, has been a symbol of women’s culture throughout history.  It is an aesthetic form with a multifaceted function; it can veil, flirt, or reflect social position.  Schapiro, again, changes this image from craft to fine art and in so doing enhances the image of women’s strength and vitality.

Schapiro taught at the California Institute of the Arts.  Her works are held in collections all over the world including the National Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Vicki Leon

Vicki Leon is both an artist and inventor.  She has developed a glass process in which she sandblasts and airbrushes paint onto glass laminates creating her unique sculptures.

Ms. Leon’s long career in art includes public artworks for Scripps Hospital, La Jolla, The Joan Kroc Peace and Justice Center, San Diego, and public projects in collaboration with Judy Chicago.  Together they created studio doors for Audrey Cowen (Chicago’s weaving collaborator), and are currently developing a proposal for the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building honoring Clara Shortridge Foltz (the first woman lawyer in California).

Ms. Leon is concurrently working on an installation for The Women’s Hall of Fame, co-hosted by the Women’s History Reclamation Project, the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women, The San Diego Sate University’s Women Studies Department and The Women’s Center, University of California, San Diego.

Other collaborations with Judy Chicago include Arcanum in Shades of Grey, Sappho Plate (from the Dinner Party), Through the Flower and Peeling Back.

Maquette for Amazon (Arcanum in Grey)

Arcanum in Grey is a maquette (model) for a larger, 4 panel, version that was later completed and toured around the country.  It is a study investigating women bodybuilders and their life styles.  It is a statement to the lack of recognition of the women who care for and carve their bodies.  Bodybuilding has been traditionally a man’s domain.  Male bodybuilders can find awards, honor, fame and perhaps even a career in politics. Female bodybuilders are often ostracized and considered freakish because of their strength.  Judy Chicago honors women bodybuilders with this work and celebrates their accomplishments.

1 Paula Wynell Bradley, Miriam Schapiro: The Feminist Transformation of an Avant-Garde Artist, (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilm International, 1983) 88.

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