In 1964 she sat stone-faced onstage at New York’s Carnegie Hall and invited members of the audience to cut off pieces of her clothing. Remaining virtually motionless throughout the performance, she surrendered to the unpredictable reactions of strangers. The intimate encounter between artist and audience symbolized (female) passivity and vulnerability, and the potential for sexist and racist violence was part of the point. (Yoko Ono)
In 1989, just months before the Tiananmen Square crackdown, she walked into the National Gallery of Art in Beijing and fired a gun at one of her sculptures. Her action would later be described as “the first gunshots of Tiananmen.” The consequences for the artist were immediate. The exhibition was promptly shut down, and she was arrested and forced into exile. (Xiao Lu)
The group came to prominence in 2012, when five members burst into Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to protest ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Their art protest — the performance of a song they described as their punk prayer, “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” — took place as the then prime minister was campaigning for his return to the presidency. Following a farcical show trial, two members of the group were convicted on a charge of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. (Pussy Riot)
“Dangerous times call for dangerous women,” claims the media icon and editorial director of TEDWomen Pat Mitchell. Opening at Arizona State University Art Museum in fall of 2024, the exhibition Dangerous Women amplifies the voices of women whose work has shocked society, who have made art dangerous, and who have been the true disruptors of the contemporary art world. From 1960 to the present, women and women-identified artists have claimed their own bodies for expressive material, challenged gender and race inequities, and fused art with social activism. Being “dangerous” for these artists also refers to the great risks taken to make their art — putting themselves in physical danger or facing the dangers of losing their families, careers or freedoms. This exhibition poses the question: Why is it that women artists must still confront racism, misogyny, and patriarchal culture? And what will it take to change the future?
Dangerous Women is a project conceived by Elizabeth Armstrong and co-organized with Brittany Corrales in association with the Arizona State University Art Museum (ASUAM) and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP). With support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Research Grant, Armstrong has been able to test and advance the exhibition’s underlying ideas with an intergenerational group of advisors, including artists, art historians, cultural critics and curators. Their input helped refine the thesis of Dangerous Women to focus on a diverse group of international rulebreakers who, between 1960 to the present, have been dangerous in their artwork.
The exhibition will concentrate on 25 to 30 artists from around the globe working in multiple mediums, including photography, film and video, sculpture, performance and installation. The work of these artists, as Lucy Lippard observed, has been built around “a value system, a revolutionary strategy, and a way of life.” No two of the artists are alike; they are differentiated by culture and identity, by generation and geography, by support systems (or lack thereof), and by personal and political circumstances. What was dangerous for a female artist in New York City in the 1970s might be entirely different from what is dangerous for an artist working in Cape Town today. Yet, across these differences is a kinship, a shared experience of defying oppression.