Jewish Modern Art

From Abstract Expressionism to Feminism.

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Yet postmodernism also fought to free the narratives of minorities from the universal claims of dominant majorities. That Rosenberg's modernist Abstract Expressionism was practiced almost exclusively by white males of European descent betrays the true identity of his "individual." Of the artists, Rosenberg cited in his speech-- Rothko, Newman, Gottlieb, Nevelson, Guston, Lassaw, Rivers, Steinberg--all aside from Nevelson were white men. Postmodernism opened the door to stories and peoples outside the mainstream, and the strongest and most pervasive such voice came from feminism. Remarkably, feminist artists and critics were also overwhelmingly of Jewish origin.

Pioneers of Feminist Art

Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Spero, Hannah Wilke and, more recently, Barbara Kruger were the pioneers of feminist art (and of many other strains of contemporary art) and are all Jews. Many of them have even addressed Jewish content directly--but that is beside the point. The question is not what type of art Jews were practicing but why feminist ranks were filled so disproportionately by Jews. The answer--and this is my attempt to define a postmodern Jewish art--is that Jews, having been accepted into mainstream America, began questioning mainstream America from within.

Women, like Jews, are tentatively part of the mainstream: outside enough to question, inside enough for those questions to resonate significantly. The assertion of a female voice in feminist art--deeply human in its collective particularity, not in its universal individuality--is perhaps the greatest model for a Jewish voice in contemporary art. If we shift Rosenberg's emphasis from an individual who speaks universally to one who speaks for and as part of a multifaceted, collective minority--from Abstract Expressionism to feminism--we might arrive at a definition of postmodern Jewish art.

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