Anita Steckel 2006
Presented by Mitchell Algus Gallery
May 25, 2006- June 30, 2006Mitchell Algus Gallery presents an exhibition of drawings, collage and paintings by Anita Steckel opening on Thursday May 25 and running through Saturday June 30, 2006. A reception for the artist will be held on the day of the opening from 6 to 8 pm.
In the early 1960s, before feminism had been fully defined as a political movement, Anita Steckel took women’s issues, mixed them with current politics and fleshed out a raucously original visual polemic. Steckel’s medium was montage, part John Heartfield, part Hannah Hoch and totally contemporary; a uniquely New York mix of autobiography, sexual politics, political outrage and social observation, both visual and literary. She showed her work on 57th Street at the Hacker book store’s gallery. At the dawn of Pop Art, Steckel called her art “Mom Art.” At a time when painting and sculpture were paring down, becoming cooler, more minimal and “modern,” Steckel’s work was defiantly retrograde; a contentious, Semitic predecessor to Michael Lesy’s poignant, Protestant Wisconsin Death Trip. It is interesting to view Steckel’s art beside other cosmopolitan Jewish New Yorkers like Saul Steinberg and her high school classmates Milton Glazer and Rosalyn Drexler.
By the 1970s Steckel’s art came to be seen in the context of the emerging feminist gound swell. Widely reproduced in feminist journals and in the popular press – images from her Giant Woman series, in which female figures do ambivalent battle with New York’s phallic architecture, graced Ms. and New York magazines. The explicit eroticism of Steckel’s art drew much attention. A show of her work at Rockland Community College in 1971, “The Sexual Politics of Feminist Art,” was threatened with closure by local politicians and the imbroglio was covered in the New York press. Another exhibition, this of male nudes by female artists at the Bronx Museum of Art (then located in the Bronx County Court building) led to the formation of the “Fight Censorship” group which included Judith Bernstein, Louise Bourgoise, Eunice Golden, Joan Semmel, Juanita McNeely and Hannah Wilke. Here Steckel came up with the memorable broadside that “if the erect penis is not “wholesome” enough to go into museums, it should not be considered “wholesome” enough to go into women.”1 Indeed, Steckel’s art has documented a contentious if sometimes ambiguous engagement with the patriarchy: Hitler, Nixon, Reagan, Bush; Picasso, Leonardo, Van Gogh, Duchamp.
As a mirror to her art, Steckel’s personal life is elucidating. Fresh out of New York’s High School of Music and Art Steckel was Marlon Brando’s live-in girlfriend while he starred on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire. Then, in the early 1960s, the artist had a long, if unconsumated, romantic relationship with Allen Ginsberg and later, a friendship with Diane Arbus who was attracted to Steckel’s art and fascinated by her personality. In the 1980s Steckel showed with Fashion Moda, Colab, Group Material and ABC No Rio, venues where her work must have seemed of a piece with artists like Sue Coe. Currently she has a starring role in Richard Meyer’s catalog essay for LA MoCA’s gestating feminist exhibition.
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