Meet Cindy Nemser - art critic, theatre critic, novelist, humorist, journalist, and ardent feminist.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

Letter from Katherine Spencer

10:11 AM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
February 2014

Hello Cindy,

       I am pleasantly surprised to have found your email address online, and I hope you don't mind my contacting you. I am a thirty year old painter living with my husband in Cambridge, Massachusetts. unfortunately I have never had a significant woman teacher or artistic mentor, although I have plenty of peers who are women artists. I just learned about you two days ago while I was researching Eve Hesse. I checked Art Talk out of the library and I was blown away to see Sonia Delauney, Alice Neel (two of my absolute heros), Louise Nevelson and Eve Hesse (becoming heros as well for me), and Grace Hartigan and Lee Krasner all in the same book! I sat down today and read the entire thing, taking many notes. I became impressed with the questions you asked, and the points you argued with these artists.

       The book is so very valuable to our history, and I am so grateful to have the words of these women to cheer me on. As I read I became curious to see what you were up to today. Someone should ask Cindy what she thinks of how things have progressed, regressed, or stayed the same for women artists, I thought. I just now googled you and found your blog. Have you found a publisher for Firebrand yet? Are involved with feminist artists today, like the Gorilla Girls? I would love to hear about what you are up to now. And I think you should have a proper Wikipedia page!

All the best,

Katherine Spencer 


Dear Katherine,

       I was delighted to hear from you. Your enthusiasm for Art Talk is so encouraging to me. Have you heard of the Feminist Art Journal? I was the publisher and editor from 1972-77. I left the art world a at that time as I was burnt out by all the responsibilities of being one of the first feminist art critics. At this time my health is not good, but I still try to keep up with what is going on with women in the arts and women in general. I was there way before the Gorilla Girls. I was there at the inception of feminist art movement. If you want to know all about me go to my archive at the Getty Research Institute. I'm not sure, but I think it may be up on line by now. In any case a complete copy of my unpublished memoir will be up after February 25,when the person handling it, John Tain, returns to his post there. I have no idea how to find a publisher for the memoir as it is both an historical account of the period and my personal experience being there. I agree I should have a Wikipedia page for myself and a Wikipedia page for The Feminist Art Journal which I could not get the Art Index to list at that time. As for now, I need an intern who can help me organize my digital files and help me distribute the FAJ to other archives which handle various arts, as the magazine covered theater, music, film, crafts and literature by women. As for the progress of women in the arts, we still have a very long way to go. Gloria Steinem nails it in the latest issue of Ms. Women are still under represented in all forms of work including art work. We still have a star system with only a few like Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic getting all the attention and the rest still ignored. I think the art of today is, for the most part made up of junk. It has appropriated its ideas from the much more interesting innovators, both male and female of the 70's. By the way Abramovic was not even on the scene when I wrote a seminal piece on body art. However, after all the other male body artists have moved on, she is happy to parade her naked self as a sex object. No wonder the folks at MOMA love her. Cindy Sherman who built her ideas on those of Eleanor Antin, is also not threatening to the status quo. Why has Alice Neel been completely ignored by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum? How is it that everyone in the art world knows of Henry Moore, but not Barbara Hepworth? Only a few people know how important and innovative Sonia Delaunay was. Even Louise Nevelson has been ignored for many years. Only Judy Chicago reins as queen bee at the Brooklyn Museum. To me she deserves the dubious distinction of insisting that women of achievement should be remembered for their vaginas (or cunts as she would say). As in all the other political and economic movements that are stirring today, women in the arts must take a strong stand. Picket the museums again, have demonstrations, don't beg. Demand. It is important to start organizing women artists groups again and even, more important don't waste time and energy in petty bickering. or working to make yourself more important than any one else. If we work against each other, regressive forces are sure to pull us apart and dissipate the threat of action. I wish you lived in Brooklyn where I live. I really need help to get the message out once again.

Keep in touch,

Cindy Nemser


Dear Cindy,

       I am so happy to have heard back from you! I have to say I agree with your take on the art world today. There are some great women artists out there, but we have a long way to go. When I learned about an incredible black woman performance artist, Senga Nengudi, who in the 1970's was an important influence on David Hammons (now a prominent New York artist and a MacArthur Fellow), I was saddened that I had never heard a peep about her before, although I was very familiar with Abramovic. Why is it that women performance artists of today so often use the Abramovic tactic of baring their bodies? I can't help but observe that performance artists who perform nude or in provocative clothes happen to also be white, thin, and in general, stereotypically attractive. I do understand how important the body is as a tool to communicate, but I don't buy it that these women need to be so beautifully naked for their art. There's an unspoken pressure in the culture to be a "sexy female artist;" it's desirable-and marketable.
       When I first learned about the Dinner Party as a young woman I was so excited that it existed, but I feel Chicago's rhetoric is more divisive than productive, to say the least. And on and on! I feel that the power of big money in the galleries, museums, and auctions is responsible for stifling good art or exploiting young artists and thereby hampering their potential. The structures that cater to wealthy collectors or donors tidy things up so that it's difficult to really put a finger on the discrimination against women. But it's there! And the schools are certainly not immune to the pressures of the money in the art world. Reading your interview with Sophia Delaunay, I was struck by what she kept saying about art's relationship with money having changed. I had just read an interview with Duchamp from the sixties and he said the exact same thing. Although I couldn't come into town more than once every four or five weeks, I would gladly offer you what help I can with digital file organization and spreading the word about the Feminist Art Journal. In exchange I'd love to hear your memories of the beginnings of the feminist movement in art, and your thoughts about what can be done today. I've attached my resume to this email. I could also try to find an intern for you who lives closer to where you are. If you would like to meet up and discuss this idea, let me know, and we could figure out a weekend when I could come into Brooklyn. I'm curious about the Getty Research Institute archive. I'll have to take a look at it!

 All the best,

 Katherine Spencer

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

3:08 PM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
From Robert  Zakanitch --

I am happy to get in touch with you as I recently was sent your book on Ben Cunningham. I want to thank you so much for writing it. You indeed writ for the underdog! It brought back vividly my years in art school studying with Ben and Hans Beckman --a good friend of his. I was very taken by the book. It filled in so many gaps and stated so clearly his many years of undeserved obscurity even after his showing at MOMA with the OP-ART exhibitions (never did see a one man show of his there). He was so much more than all that simple tricky work. I remember after studying with him for all that time upon seeing Albers work and thinking it was comparatively so thin and ABC in concept. Been was involved with the soul of color not its surface (altering its state of being) and what it can do on a very deep level. The intensity was beyond magic.

I was also happy to read that he finally did receive some recognition even tho it was relational to OP.

Ben was the greatest colorist I've every come across in my lifetime. He gave me new eyes and ears.

Again I can't thank you enough for creating (writing) such an important beautiful book to put into the world.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

What if ____Wrote the Bridges of Madison County

10:14 AM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
The musical Bridges of Madison County is opening on Broadway. The show is based on the wildly popular novel and the movie which starred Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. I have written a spoof of the story which I though you might enjoy reading. What if ____Wrote the Bridges of Madison County Today? LEO TOLSTOY: Russian refusnik, Count Romanovitch Veronsky, balalaika player and free-lance photographer for National Geo graphic is in Clayton, Iowa, taking pictures of the famous covered bridges of Madison County. At Roseman Bridge he meets, the beautiful, but sexually somnolent Francesca Johnson, respectable wife and mother. Inexorably drawn to each other, they have a four day affair, and Romanovitch convinces Francesca to abandon her family and run off with him to Moscow so he can win fame as a musician. Once there, Romanovitch discovers the clubs only want electric guitarists. Francesca pines for her children Carolyn and Michael, so Robert takes her back to Clayton. But neither Francesca's children nor the rest of the community will have anything to do with them. Wretched, Francesca whines incessantly and clings to Romanovitch like Saran Wrap. Fed up, he gets a foreign assignment from National Geographic. Certain that he plans to abandon her, Francesca throws herself off Roseman Bridge leaving her suicide note tacked on the entrance. GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: Sex starved, Harlequin novels addict Francesca, and lithesome, smooth talking, French chanteur Robert Leseure meet during his American tour. They have four nights of blazing passion. To celebrate her reawakening, Francesca takes her husband's credit card, goes to Des Moines, and buys five sexy dresses, three pairs of stiletto heels, and an ankle bracelet inscribed with Robert’s initials. For her lover she purchases two pair of handcrafted leather sandals, and a sliver chain to match her silver bracelet. Caring not one jot for her lumpen husband Richard and her snotty kids, she agrees to elope with Robert. But when the time comes for him to whisk her off in state of the art pick-up van, Robert streaks past her farmhouse without looking back. Richard returns to find Francesca ranting deliriously. Eventually, she rallies; but when the credit card arrives, rather than face the consequences, she eats poisoned mushrooms growing near Roseman Bridge and expires. She does not leave a suicide note. GEORGE ELIOT: Married to a clean, but repressed agricultural expert, idealistic, tenderhearted Francesca is seduced by the, uninhibited, yet mysterious, feature writer Robert Ladislaw who, reminds her of some star creature, while her husband is at a genetic engineering conference. The liaison continues after the family reappears. The pair makes love in the fields, in the van, and on Roseman Bridge. Francesca, who no longer has sex with Richard, becomes pregnant. When she tells Robert, he offers to pay for an abortion. Being a good Catholic she refuses, so he heads for Bangkok. .Unable to hide her shame, Francesca tells all to her husband .Traumatized, he collapses and dies. Convinced that her confession has killed him, Francesca enters a convent where she takes a vow of silence. CHARLES DICKENS: Francesca and Robert Muzzlemouth,. a sensitive finely featured professor, who teaches industrial psychology, meet at Roseman Bridge. They know their souls have intertwined, but they are too pure to let their bodies do the same. They spend four days, picnicking, taking pictures, listening to jazz, and making vegetarian dinners for themselves at her farm- house • They hint of their feelings for each other, but they never touch except when Robert passes Francesca some peeled potatoes. Then, news comes that Richard has been kicked in the head by his prize steer and has died. The children return devastated. Robert begs Francesca to take her kids and come away with him to Stanford where his has been offered a professorship at the university, but she cannot bring to uproot the children in the wake of their father's death. Sadly, Robert leaves to join an innovative group of first generation computer experts at the school. Years later, her daughter Carolyn, marries a billionaire soft wear creator whose chiseled features as well as his astonishing intelligence immediately win over both daughter and mother.. He turns out to be Robert's son born after his ex- wife had divorced him years before he met Francesca. JAMES JOYCE: Robert Sean Kincaid, a poet/ photographer, of Irish ancestry wanders around Madison County for four days, ostensibly seeking Roseman Bridge, but really looking for his spiritual father. Everything there evokes a stream of Freudian and Jungian memories. Bridges conjure up the womb, rivers, the waters of eternity; silos, his ambivalence about his masculinity, Jazz clubs, the underworld. Immersed in his own psyche, he fails to glimpse a raven haired, soft bellied, full breasted woman sitting on a porch drinking iced tea. She is so deep in a reverie about the sexual fulfillment she found with her art professor Niccolo, back in Italy, before meeting her impotent Husband, she doesn't see Robert either. Just as Francesca's family returns and is about to go into the house, Robert pulls up and asks for directions to Roseman Bridge. Richard offer to take him there. As Robert photographs the bridge, Richard, who has developed a pot belly, compares himself to the lean, muscular, quick eyed photographer and mournfully mediates on his inadequacies. Robert, who has always felt like an outcast, longs to connect with Richard but can't find the words. Francesca is still on the porch, thinking about her Italian lover, when the men return. She offers the stranger iced tea, but he declines and drives off. That night Francesca, in bed with the snoring Richard, fantasizes about Robert's hard muscular forearms and thighs, sighing yes, yes, yes. WOODIE ALLEN: Allen: Robert Kogelman, film maker and Woodie Allen look-alike is doing a satire on a Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. While filming Roseman Bridge for one of his scenes, he meets Francesca who cannot resist his neurotic introspection, erudite observations, and exotic New York accent. Captivated by his Jewish humor, she ignores his sagging chest, skinny arms, spindly legs, and balding pate. She forgets about her family and dashes off to New York to live with him on the upper west side. After their first rapture subsides, she yearns to have her children near her. She convinces her 15 year old daughter, who is getting fed up with cows and pigs, to come and live with them. .Robert gets one look at the kid and forgets all about mom. Demoralized, Francesca returns to Iowa to beg her husband's forgiveness, but he is has taken up with the waitress at the local café. Hoping to retrieve the affection of her son, Francesca remains in the vicinity. Snubbed by the townsfolk, she seeks out the other local adulteress. They meet often to commiserate at Roseman Bridge. Realizing they have become two sides of one being, they become passionate lovers and move to San Francisco to live blissfully until Francesca dies. Her lover takes her ashes to Roseman Bridge and scatters them around its scared environs.

Friday, November 29, 2013

6:07 PM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
Letter to the New York Times re:N.F.L and Jane Austen November 29, 2014 To the editor I was delighted to read Maureen Dowd’s “Pigskin Pride and Prejudice,” (column, Nov. 25): in which she used comparisons to Jane Austen’s heroines Emma and Elizabeth Bennet to highlight the character defects of the immature superstars of the male-dominated hierarchical world of professional football. I did my MA thesis on Jane Austen in 1958, when she was assigned reading for English majors taking courses in eighteenth century literature. I chose to write about Austen because I identified with the romantic and social problems of her many faceted heroines, and I adored both her universal wisdom and sparkling wit. She was an inspiration for my own writings: both fictional and autobiographical. After I published my first novel, in the late 80’s, I went to see a well known agent with a proposal to write a book about the tempestuous romance of two teenagers growing up in the 50’s in the insular middle class Jewish, neighborhood of Midwood in Brooklyn. Her response was unenthusiastic. She said: Books aimed at teenagers have to be contemporary stories taking place in far flung exotic settings. My book is primarily written for adults. Adults aren’t interested in reading about the doings of teenagers thirty years ago. What about the works of Jane Austen? She wrote about teenagers hundreds of years ago. The agent shrugged. “Oh, nobody reads her.”

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Cindy Nemser's Forum

4:19 PM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
Wednesday, November 6,2012=3 Cindy Nemser's archive is at the Getty Research Institute in California. There are tapes, published and unpublished books, articles, stories, a memoir about the 1970's art world entitled Firebrand: Tales of the 70's Art World Told by a Feminist Art Critic.Feminist Art Journal as well as the issues of Changes which contain articles by Nemser. There is also a roman a cléfé set in the 70's about 2 women artists trying to make it big in the art world of that time. The archive has lots of tapes that are interviews with men and women artists, as well as photographs, correspondence with artists, editors, fans etc. Cindy Nemser owns the copyright for all this material and anyone who wishes to publish any of it must contact her. She is looking for a publisher to reprint Art Talk: Conversation with 15 Women Artists, published 1975 and 95. She is also seeking a publisher for the memoir, the novels, etc. If you wish to contact Nemser call 1-718-857-9456 or email She is delighted to speak with people, both women and men who are interested in the inception of the feminist art movement from 1970 through 1977. There has been very little written about that period which erupted in Brooklyn and Manhattan in 1969-70. The impact of the Women's Interart Center has also been neglected. Many of the leaders of the movement: artists, art historians and critics have not been given credit for their amazing courage and stamina. It is time they got their due. How many of you know about the contributions of Irene Moss, June Blum, Dorothy Gillespie, Jacqueline Skiles, Ellen Lubell, Muriel Castanis, Carolyn Mazzello, Sylvianna Goldsmith, Juliet Gordon, Camille Billops, Ce Roser, Gloria Orenstein and so many others who actively make the feminist art revolution happen. Nemser, who was there at the first confrontation of women artists with Duncan Cameron, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, and at the first panel and speak out about the sexism faced by women in the arts tries fill in the missing history of the movement. She speaks from a personal viewpoint as a writer and editor and is not afraid to tell how the feminists fought the system by picketing and publishing, but also fought each other for the leadership of a so-called non hierarchical movement. The book is both a history of a revolution in the arts and a personal revelation of both the heights and depths of human behavior when the opportunity to shine