Sunday, December 12, 2010

Does Matt Weiner Owe Idelle Weber Royalties?

When I was a budding feminist at Smith College, taking lit courses, Toril Moi's Sexual/Textual Politics: feminist literary theory was something of a touchstone, laying out a narrative of the stages that feminist criticism had gone through. First there was the "images of women" criticism, looking at how male writers had portrayed women, then there was the discovery phase, when critics discovered or, more often, rediscovered women writers who had been neglected, under-read and misread. (Rediscovered because, often enough, as Jane Tompkins demonstrated about 19th century American fiction, women writers were often, in a reversal of the standard artistic-heroic cliche, well-known in their own time only to be buried later by the condescension of cultural gatekeepers.) Then, there was the phase we were presumably in at the time, and presumably still are: the phase of theory.

The idea of course was that criticism had become more sophisticated, that we didn't need to do that rediscovery thing anymore. (The images of women stuff was of course often seen as really passe, and "simplistic," which always struck me as unfair. Someone had to say something about Mailer, and anyone who gets on the cover of Time for doing it must be doing something right.) But the more damaging unstated assumption that I think goes into this is the idea that the rediscovery has been done, that our curriculums and cultural institutions are so multicultural and progressive that they bend over backwards to celebrate women artists, and artists of color. I mean, many of us know that this isn't true, as the Guerilla Girls brilliantly demonstrated time and time again. But we're still surprised by what we don't know.

All of which is to say, before I went to the Brooklyn Museum's great exhibit on Women and Pop art, I'd never heard of Idelle Weber. Munchkins I, II & III, the yellow and black triptych of silhouetted men going up and down the elevators at MetLife prompted Time Out to write this:
It begs obvious comparison to Mad Men; it's almost hard to believe it's a product of 1964 instead of another contemporary, guiltily nostalgic reflection on white-collar conformity.

Which would seem to have it exactly backwards: Mad Men is doing a Pop Art commentary on itself every time the camera starts behind Jon Hamm's head, and it would seem the real anachronism is thinking that artists aren't capable of critiquing their own age. Weber also had these cubes with the silhouettes on them which were kind of gorgeous, and one of them even had a figure in a slumped, viewed from behind pose. Now if one of those showed up on Draper's desk, it would be a meta-joke, but it could it also be a parting gift from Cooper, who has plenty of time now to build his collection beyond the Rothko from season 2.

Here's part of what wikipedia has to say about Weber:

In light of her success, Weber moved to New York to work and to secure a gallery affiliation. Sam Hunter, then curator at MoMA, arranged for her to meet art historian H.W. Janson, who admired Weber's work but stated that he did not include women painters in his books.[1] Charles Allen, owner of the Allen Gallery, similarly indicated that he did not show women artists.[2] Weber attended an illustration and design class taught by Alexander Liberman at the School of Visual Arts, but when she asked Robert Motherwell if she could audit his class at Hunter College, he responded that married women with children were not permitted to audit classes because they would not continue painting.[3] Weber had married earlier that year. In 1958 her son was born, followed by a daughter in 1964, yet she continued painting.
We think this is an old story, that it's either too far in the past or too familiar to bother us much. But Weber, like many of the women in the show, is still alive and working, and as the old Guerilla Girls poster said, you could probably buy most of the show for the price of a single Warhol.