Reflections on The 1972 Conference for Women in the Visual Arts at the Corcoran

Posted by: Cynthia Ann Bickley Green, PhD

The following abstract and the above slides are from a presentation presented at the 2014 Feminist Art History Conference by Cynthia Ann Bickley-Green, PhD; Rosemary Wright, PhD; and Barbara Frank, MFA.

The 1972 Conference for Women in the Visual Arts at the Corcoran is remembered as a footnote in feminist history. The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art- Feminist Timeline: United States: 1970s includes an entry for the 1972 conference. The text reads, “The museum [Corcoran] is prompted to host the event in response to protests that no women had been included in its 1971 Biennial exhibition.” A conference steering committee was formed –– Josephine Withers, Barbara Frank, Mary Beth Edelson, Yvonne Wulf, Susan Sollins, Enid Sanford, and Cynthia Bickley-Green. The Corcoran School of Art and other museums/universities played roles in facilitating the conference. This presentation reviews experiences of some members of the steering committee. In relation to this presentation, we invite you to respond to the questions below. We have provided some representative answers below..

What did we do?
We invited women in museums, artists, professors, writers, educators, and art students who represented many political views. New Yorkers had held earlier conferences, but this was the first national conference. Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro attended from the west coast; Laura Chapman led a contingent from Cincinnati, and an array of New Yorkers participated. As the group gathered in the gallery, tensions abounded. Alice Neel attended to give a slide show of her paintings. Other participants resisted her request in order continuing talking about their experiences as women in art fields. Patricia Sloane working in academics spoke for political action rather than consciousness-raising. This was a propitious time for the conference. During the 1960s and 1970s, critical theorists and feminist authors had kindled women’s awareness of their societal and artistic roles.

What happened after the conference?
Edelson requested that Roy Slade, Director of the Corcoran School, hire Wright. Lucy Lippard asked Wright to be the D.C. representative for the East-West Bag [E-WB] network of women artists.  The E-WB started consciousness-raising meetings held weekly for two years.  The E-WB created a registry of resumes and slides of women’s art, so that curators/dealers could not say that they did not know any women artists. A coup for Washington women occurred when the group organized two shows of Washington women in NYC. Wright curated a show for 55 Mercer, and AI.R. mounted another Washington, DC, group.

Local organizations for women in the arts were instituted. Wright contributed to the development of Foundry Gallery. Frank was the founder of the Washington Women’s Art Center. Frank and eventually Wright were on the board of the Washington Women’s Art Center. Withers and Bickley-Green continued teaching at the University of Maryland. Mary Beth Edelson moved to New York to become an artist. Yvonne Wulf continued as a librarian. Susan Sollins became the co-founder of Independent Curators International and later the Executive Producer of Art in the Twenty-First Century. Enid Sanford continued as an artist. Bickley-Green completed a PhD in Art and became a professor. Wright moved to New York and became an Assistant Dean at Cooper Union. She eventually completed a doctoral degree in Cross-Cultural Aesthetics


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