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

About Me



Monday, October 23, 2006

1:11 PM Posted by Cindy Nemser 1 comment
If you are not familiar with my contribution to the women artist’s cause I would like to give you some of my background. I am an art historian and critic. I received an M.A. from the Institute of Fine Arts in 1966, did an internship at the Museum of Modern Art and became a respected art critic writing for Artforum, Art in America, Arts Magazine (I was a contributing editor to Arts from 1972-75), the Art Journal, Art Education, and Studio International. I have also been published in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Ms, Newsday, Opera Monthly, and many other art, feminist, and general and publications. I was the first to write about and interview Chuck Close, Eva Hesse, Vito Acconci and many others and I received an Art Critic’s Fellowship award from the National Endowment on the Arts in 1974. I am a member of PEN American, Drama Desk and Outer Critics and am listed in Who’s Who in American Art and Who’s Who in the American Women as well as other Who’s Who directories. I have lectured and held seminars on the art of both men and women all over the country and also appeared on the radio and on television in cities all over America.

In 1970, I attended a meeting of the organization called W.A.R. (Women Artists in Revolution) who were debating whether to have an all women artists exhibition, which they would call X12:X, because there were twelve women artists in it. Some were fearful they would be stigmatized by showing with only women, but they decided to go ahead despite their reservations. (I reviewed this now legendary show for Arts Magazine.) During the discussion, one of the women asked me if I had ever experienced sexist discrimination during my lifetime. That question caused me to have an experience that the Zen Buddhists refer to as Satori, an epiphany. Immediately I remembered how hard I had to fight to establish a career as an art historian and critic for myself because I was a married woman with a child. One of my professors at the Institute of Fine Arts told me to do volunteer work after I obtained my M.A. Another one said I didn’t need to work as I had a husband to support me. I reacted to their rejection of my abilities by assuming I was not smart enough even to gain their approval even though I had earned excellent grades. I blamed myself when they didn’t accept me as a PhD candidate although they said I could keep taking courses but with no guarantee of future acceptance. Now I realized how my being a married woman and a mother had worked against me and I was outraged. But I also felt as if I had finally woken up and seen the world as it really was. I converted to feminism almost in an instant and became a dedicated advocate for women in the arts.

I wrote one of the first articles about women artists entitled “Forum: Women in Art” which was published in Arts Magazine, in February, 1971 and later published a painstakingly researched article about how art historians and critics in the 19th and 20th century had written women out of art history by ignoring or disparaging them. The piece was called “Stereotypes and Women Artists” and I put it in the in the first issue of the Feminist Art Journal, in April 1972. The article was later published by Journal of Aesthetic Education under the title, “Art Criticism and Women Artists,”, July, 197, and then included in Judith Loeb’s anthology Feminist Collage, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York, 1979. I felt my research had proven that there were great women artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun, Rosa Bonheur, Angelica Kaufmann and so forth. When Linda and Ann Sutherland Harris did their exhibition “Women Artists: 1550—1950, in 1976, I felt I had been vindicated. I also felt allied with Linda Nochlin and Ann Sutherland Harris because we were fighting for the same cause.

I published/edited The Feminist Art Journal from 1972-77, on a shoestring, right from the basement of my house at 41 Montgomery Place, in Park Slope where I have lived for forty years. The magazine, a 50 page quarterly was first presented as a newspaper and then revamped into a slick two color magazine. I published historical articles, exposes, interviews, art profiles, book and art gallery reviews. The Feminist Art Journal was the first to promote the little known women of Surrealism in an article by Gloria Orenstein. She also wrote the first piece on Frida Kahlo who, at that time, was only known in the United States as the wife of Diego Rivera. The F.A.J. also published Patricia Mainardi’s now famous piece on the glory of women’s quilts. We covered women in all the arts, but the main emphasis was on the visual.

The Feminist Art Journal reached a circulation of 8,000 and had subscribers both in America and in countries all over the world. Many public and college libraries were subscribers. Though the magazine was strictly a labor of love, I paid everyone on our staff and all our contributors. I knew that women were always being called upon to do volunteer work and I vowed the F.A.J. would not perpetuate that unfair practice. My husband, who was the managing editor, and I took only enough salary to cover our business expenses. The production of the magazine was paid for with the money that came from bookstore sales and subscriptions.

I published Art Talk: Conversations with 12 Women Artists, Scribner, 1975. It was the first book to be written about women artists since the 1930’s. HarperCollins reprinted it in 1995, in paperback, as Art Talk: Conversations with 15 women. The three added interviews were also done in the 70’s. It was translated into Chinese and published in Taiwan in 1998 and today it is considered a classic. The book contains interviews with Eva Hesse, Barbara Hepworth, Lee Krasner, Marisol, Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, Betye Saar, Isabel Bishop and many other acclaimed women artists. Every artist in the book was originally interviewed on tape and so I own the only existing tape with Eva Hesse who tragically died only a few months after I interviewed her. If you listen to the audio guide at the Jewish Museum, Eva’s voice comes directly from my tape. When Art Talk I was reprinted I organized several panels at Barnes and Noble, on 6th Ave and 20th Street, and invited some of the artists in the book to come and have their say about their experience as women artists. The panelists were Lila Katzen, Audrey Flack, Grace Hartigan and Janet Fish. I also did a series of events at that Barnes and Noble, which included Carolee Schneemann, Howardena Pindell and the photographer Jill Clements.

I have also published two other books, a novel, Eve’s Delight, Pinnacle Books, New York, 1982, and a monograph on the little known, but astonishingly gifted optical artist Ben Cunningham entitled A Life With Color, JPL Art Publishers, Texas, 1989. I became a cultural critic in 1990’s and besides writing about art in Ms and Arts Magazine, I also wrote on theater, dance and opera for Arts and Entertainment, Theater Weekly, Opera Monthly, the Dramatists Guild Quarterly, American Theatre, City Search and many other magazines and newspapers.

In 1974, Diane Burko and I helped to organize a women’s art festival in Philadelphia called “Philadelphia Focuses on Women in the Arts.” The whole city participated with art shows, panels, film festivals and readings. We had a major invitational exhibit called “Women’s Work” at the Philadelphia Civic Center. The curators of the show were Marcia Tucker, Adelyn Breeskin, Anne d’ Harnancourt, Lila Katzen and myself. I also did a show entitled “In Her Own Image” at the Fleisher Memorial Gallery, which is part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Each woman artist presented an image of a woman. Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson, Käthe Kollowitz, Eleanor Antin, Faith Ringgold, Elaine De Kooning, Nancy Grossman, Isabel Bishop and Alice Neel Marcia Marcus were among the 45 participants The show was a great success and was written about in the New York Times the Philadelphia Inquire, the Philadelphia Evening News and in many art magazines and journals.

In the 1970’s I also did a great deal of lecturing around the country in schools such as Yale, University of Southern California, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, The University of Iowa, Pratt Institute, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Rhode Island School of Design, and such institutions as the Berkley Museum, the Smithsonian, the Brooklyn Museum, and too many more to mention. I also did participated on panels at Oberlin, AIR Gallery, the Viridian Gallery, Tyler School of art, Temple University in Philadelphia, among others and did seminars at the women artists cooperative galleries such as AIR, Artemisia, and Arc in Chicago, Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota, W.A.R.M. in Minneapolis, and other women’s cooperatives. I was delighted to give a slide talk and book signing at the Feminist Studio Workshop in the Women’s Building in Los Angeles in 1975. In 1977, I deeply honored to be invited to give the commencement speech at the Minneapolis School of Art and Design.

I have told given some of my history to Maura Reilly and she wants to meet and plan some historical projects with me about the inception of feminism in the arts. I was there while it all was happening, and I covered and participated in all the major events: the confrontation with the director Duncan Cameron at the Brooklyn Museum, the picketing of Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney, the Conference of Women in the Visual Arts at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C., April, 1972, in which I participated and which I wrote up for Art in America. I also was a founding member of the organization Women in the Arts, in 1971. That organization convinced Mario Amaya, the then director of the New York Cultural Center, to put on the first major museum women artists museum called “Women Choose Women.” I also organized the first three sessions on women artists for the studio artists division of the College Art Association February, 1973, with panels that included Louise Nevelson, Lee Krasner, Audrey Flack, Marcia Tucker and many other artists, dealers and museum women, and many years later, in 1996 I did a panel at the C.A.A. called “Learning from the 70’s”

During the 1990’s I became a theater and cultural critic. I wrote for the entertainment section of the New York Law Journal, Citysearch, Art and Entertainment (for whom I had the honor to interview Marilyn Horne) Opera Monthly and American Theatre, Dance Pages, among many other publications. I also printed a piece on the plight of women playwrights for the Dramatists Guild Quarterly. My daughter Catherine Nemser and I wrote several plays, one of which “Mom’s the Word” got us into the semi-finals of the prestigious Anna Weissberger Foundation and New Dramatists L. Arnold Weissberger Playwriting Competition. (Pretty good for a first attempt.) We also wrote a play about the struggles of a woman artist to make a success in a sexist art world. Helen Butleroff, the producer of “That’s Life,” and “Pets,” also included us in her musical review “Mamas” that played at Theater in the Park in Queens. Our contribution was a monologue about the guilt experienced by a mother who is torn between being at work and being with her child.



At this time I am guest curating an exhibition called “Women’s Work: Homage to Feminist Art,” at the Tabla Rasa at 224 48th Street in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn. Tabla Rasa, which is owned by Audrey and Joseph Anastasi, both gifted artists and ardent feminists. It will open on March 28, 2007. Tabla Rasa, with its white walls and highly polished hardwood floors similar in design to most Manhattan galleries, is a highly professional commercial gallery, showing serious art.

The exhibition will include approximately 25 artists. Each artist will be represented by one work: either a painting, sculpture, drawing or mixed media work. The title refers to feminist concerns, but I am not insisting that the work be overtly gender oriented or political. It can also be representation or abstract. For me a woman doing her art, whether it is political or not, is a feminist action.

Among the women included in the show are Eleanor Antin, who invented new personas for herself before Cindy Sherman, Hannah Wilke, the art world beauty who had the courage to have her disfigured body photographed during her battle with the cancer that killed her, Lila Katzen, Audrey Flack, Howardena Pindell, Dotty Attie, Sylvia Sleigh Mary Grigoriadis, Judith Bernstein, early members of the first women’s gallery, A.I. R., Deborah Remington, Lil Picard, a conceptual artist who also wrote for the East Village Other, Alice Neel, who painted me and my husband Chuck Nemser in the nude, and Nancy Grossman among other veteran feminist artists. who have come into their own at this time, but some of whom have still not been significantly recognized for the gigantic influence they have had on art all over the world. To give the exhibit a richer overlay of meaning, I am also inviting some comparatively younger women such as Sue Coe, Audrey Anastasi, Orly Cogan, Rosa Loy, and Irene Hardwicke Olivieri among others. These are women who I think have either been influenced or inspired by the Artists of the 60’s and 70’s.

Though I have the last word as curator of “Women’s Work,” I value the input from both of the Anastasis and, of course, from my husband Chuck Nemser who was the unsung managing editor of the Feminist Art Journal from its inception. In fact, I think the happy collaboration that we have formed with Audrey and Joseph is a paradigm of what Betty Friedan meant by the next step that the women’s movement needed to needed to make the women ‘s movement bring about amazing world change. It is an answer to her call for women and men to finally work as equal partners so that eventually there would be no need for women to segregate themselves to get their achievements seen and appreciated. Though I am a totally committed advocate of women’s right to equality, to me feminism is the gateway to humanism, to a place where every race and religion as well as both genders will be evaluated strictly on their merit and prejudice will finally be abolished. Idealist? Well that’s how we move forward.

1 comment:

  1. We are seeking artists submissions that will help raise funds for the new Housing Works Women Health Center.

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    In 2005, 28% of new HIV diagnoses in NYC were women. Of the women who tested positive for HIV in NYC, 71% were black, 24% were Hispanic, and 35% lived in Brooklyn.

    African American and Hispanic women together represented about 25% of all US women, yet they accounted for 81% of the estimated total AIDS diagnosis.

    The rate of AIDS diagnosis for African American women was approximately 23 times the rate for white women and 4 times the rate for Hispanic women.

    Please find Call for Entries and more information on our website:

    Looking forward to hear from you!

    Best Regards,