Erotic Art and Feminism in the 1960s - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Erotic Art and Feminism in the 1960s

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Modern and Contemporary - Centre for American Art, Research Forum, Research Seminars

Erotic Art and Feminism in the 1960s

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London

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Martha Edelheit, Untitled, ca. 1966. Photograph by Markam Keith Adams. © Martha Nilsson Edeleheit


  • Rachel Middleman - Associate Professor, California State University

Organised by

  • Dr Jo Applin - The Courtauld Institute of Art
Open to all, free admission

Places are limited and will be available on a first-come first-served basis

In 1960s New York, erotic art was a broad, popular category that included everything from Pop art to abstract sculpture. The elasticity of the term “erotic” created a space in which women, later associated with the feminist art movement of the 1970s, publicly confronted stereotypes of gender and expressed their ideas about sexuality. However, erotic art’s status as a “low” genre and its perceived political ambiguity in feminist art history has helped to erased its significance in American art of the 1960s. This talk brings to light the ways women’s sexual art fundamentally challenged not only to the rules of art but also to accepted social standards for women. Carolee Schneemann’s films and performances, Martha Edelheit’s nudes, Marjorie Strider’s Pop art constructions, Hannah Wilke’s sculptures, and Anita Steckel’s collages exemplify the ways sexual politics could be fused with artistic innovation, across diverse media, to retool the sexist conventions of figuration and upend the presumed objectivity of formalism.

Rachel Middleman is Associate Professor of Art History at California State University, Chico, where she teaches courses in modern, contemporary, and American art history. She is the author of Radical Eroticism: Women, Art, and Sex in the 1960s (University of California Press, 2018), which was supported by a Smithsonian American Art Museum Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her current research and recent publications focus on topics of women artists, feminist art, and the politics of legacy. She serves as the executor of feminist artist Anita Steckel’s estate.


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