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Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner, and O'Keeffe Paperback – December 20, 1996
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"Her excellent description and analysis of individual works will help general readers to better appreciate abstract art."--Lisa Miller, "Bloomsbury Review
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It is her (un)timely death that has meant that she has survived to play a special cultural role: forever under thirty-five, she answers a hunger for youthful tragic death. She is the `dead girl'...Much of the writing about the artist cannot resist taking advantage of the free mileage it gets from Hesse's early death. When it is harnessed to her troubled life, so called, an irresistible package results. (197)
Wagner's strong suit is her skill at assisting the reader to build an understanding of feminism, art and the history of women as artists. She draws on three rather conventional (in the academic sense) artists when one might prefer to see her focus on feminist artists who are a little more out of the ordinary - Shirin Neshat comes to mind. In all, however, the work is quite a valuable cornerstone for art study and her presentation of the subject of women as artists/artists as women and the discussion about the mutual exclusivity that has historically accompanied those two constructs is insightful.
The introduction is a highly provocative intervention into feminist art history that stresses the need to consider aesthetic criteria rather than simply political credentials. Or more accurately, the author argues for their interdependence. Wagner compares Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party to a Lynda Benglis Eat Meat. She refers to Benglis's work as part of the modernist avant-garde tradition with its recalcitrant resistence to easy interpretation, and argues that this kind of work has more political potential than Chicago's work, which by comparison, is much more closed and didactic.
Each chapter examines a woman artist in relation to the avant-garde tradition. The Hesse chapter is a brilliant reworking of the methods of psychobiography. I would recommend the book for that chapter alone, her evaluations of Krasner and O'Keefe are, however, equally provocative and fascinating.
Wagner wants to be a good feminist, but ultimately, her approach is surprisingly traditional: canonical figures, marriage plot, sticks to the US, the known and alrady successful. Wants to avoid being "radical" or disturbing at all costs.