"It's about an understanding of the relationship between the immaterial and gender," curator Charlie White explained in an interview with The Huffington Post Arts. White is describing the logic behind the ongoing exhibition "SOGTFO," now showing at Los Angeles' Francois Ghebaly Gallery.
The title, for the uninitiated, stands for "Sculpture Or Get The Fuck Out," a riff on the misogynist acronym TOGTFO (Tits Or Get The Fuck Out) sometimes lodged against women in virtual chat rooms and message boards. The disappointing proximity of gender-biased digital playground and the material, supposedly progressive realm of fine art, specifically sculpture, is where the exhibition finds its argument.
"It's about how, even in the absence of space and object and physical existence, things are still deeply gendered," White continued. "It's something that precedes any relationship to this exhibition, it's just part of my own cultural interest. Place and the body are not even required to create gender binary ideas. You can have nothing, you can be online, but when you claim your gender, somehow I am allowed to attack you for that or make you have to prove that. Which says the space that you're in still has no privacy."
Those who've spent time on the internet -- especially its more amateur corners -- are likely familiar with lurking misogyny, in which women find themselves a target in a realm seemingly removed of bodies, space and gender. But how does the world of online misanthropy, where words like "bitch" and "whore" are casually slung about, relate to, let's say, the museum space?
"You start with something like misogyny and the absence of the body online," explained White, "and then look at the intersection between that and these ideas about objects, space and sculpture. When I looked at a space [like the internet] and its relationship to art and sculpture and object, I think, well that's maintained a kind of male privacy in those spaces. It's almost like looking at the most arcane version of it, and the most contemporary version of it, and saying there's not as much change as we might have imagined."
It's not masculine or feminine, gender-identified male or gender-identified female, it's super-male, more than male.
While the entirety of art history, as well as contemporary art, seems to lag a few centuries behind when it comes to gender equality, White believes sculpture is the most sexist medium of all. "The object is more tethered to the body of its maker," he says. "The author is kind of an extension of the form itself. And it's been dominantly masculine in that in late capitalism, where we are now, there's been a kind of, what I like to call, alpha object fetish. A super masculine object that's become dominant in this market and that's not only perpetuated that position but pushed it forward. It's not masculine or feminine, gender-identified male or gender-identified female, it's super-male, more than male. It pushes it a little bit further."
White specified sculptors like Richard Serra or Jeff Koons as examples of this super-male sculptural fixation, yet stressed that the problem stemmed far beyond this particular artists. "It's very much about an attitude. It can be seen in space, in institutionalized spaces that are designed to hold a Serra or institutionalized, corporate environments that are set up to present Koons. I don't think this argument is limited in any way to what these artists are doing. It's really the whole picture. It's not just the artist, their studio and their product. It's the whole institution that builds a foundation, supports a market, creates a platform and presents back to the public."
Just the very magnitude of museums and art establishments, implicitly asking to be filled, suggests the necessity of a masculine object massive enough to fill it.
The artists on view in SOGTFO are Amanda Ross-Ho, Andrea Zittel, Kelly Akashi, Kathleen Ryan and Nevine Mahmoud, artists who stood out to White because of the progressive nature of their approach toward sculpture. "I don't want to say post-gender in an obvious way because their work wasn't about that. Their approach to work was about that." White was familiar with all of the exhibited artists' work far before he started thinking about the exhibition, and the artists helped him solidify its argument.
I tried as much I could to make it an exhibition about sculpture, that... doesn't base itself around 'five women who make sculpture.'
"It's about five artists from different but relatively fast moving generations, when they came into being as artists and what kinds of vernacular they adopted at that time. You have Andrea Zittel who established herself in the 1990s, you have Amanda Ross Ho who formed her practice in relationship to the first decade of the 21st century and you have a group of younger artists who became established in the second decade of the 21st century. It's a bit rapid, but at the same time, things change rapidly, and it's as much an example of a shift in mentorship between generations of artists that, in this case, are all women. It's about being able to have ideological predecessors that are women too, that set up a relationship to future object making."
This is not a show about five women sculptors addressing the misogynist history of sculpture, he reiterates. This is not a show about five women sculptures addressing misogyny. This is not a show about five women sculptors. It's a show about sculpture (or GTFO). In White's words: "It's about being emancipated from the problem, it's not about arguing the problem."
It's easy to detect White's resistance to label this exhibition as feminine or even feminist. Rather than highlight the fact that these are women sculptors, White hopes to remove gender from the conversation completely. This is a burden he places on the viewer.
"Ultimately the viewer is the responsible party for abandoning the notion of gender in relationship to their own subjectivity. Going into a space and having some form of gender binarism in mind and looking at work through that lens is problematic because it already has the position of patriarchy setting up that binary. You can't blame it on the market, singularly, you can't blame it on the knowledge of the exchange of the commodity that is art. You have to be able to have a relationship with the object individually and that relationship should exist, as best it can, outside these categorical notions of the object or the image or anything else. If the work itself presents those issues to you, that might be different. But if you graphed those images onto everything you see you are likely to be drawing lines around something based on gender that is more restrictive than it is political."
"I tried as much I could to make it an exhibition about sculpture, that takes on this issue, but doesn't base itself around 'five women who make sculpture.' That's not the language of the show and that's hopefully not the way the exhibition should be seen."
White's exhibition challenges the viewer to remove the construct of gender fully from the overall digestion of the objects. Objects, that, hopefully, will continue to exist in a future when such binaries will no longer hold. "I talk about objects as things that are designed to occupy a space in the future that's not yet here. There is a notion that when you're making objects, as much as it might be part of contemporary discourse, unless it is built to self-destruct, it's not really meant to go away."
SOGFTO runs until April 4, 2015 at Francois Ghebaly Gallery in LA.