June 25, 2012

How Dare You! A Review on Yoko Ono's TO THE LIGHT Show in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Reading the Sueddeutsche Zeitung

As you know I am the proud owner of a Yoko Ono art piece. Reading the German newspaper this morning, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, I got upset by a critique on Yoko Ono's newest show in the Serpetine Gallery in London. Yet not only because I own a piece by her. I found this article by Alexander Menden to be a typical example of the way our society reacts on famous women artists. The subtitle already announced it: “Yoko Ono wird viel gehasst. Wie gut ist ihre Kunst?” (“Yoko Ono is hated a lot. How good is her art?”) Alexander Menden referred to Yoko Ono's so-called involvement in the breaking-up of the Beatles and then he himself extended freely this so-called “hate” towards Yoko Ono to her present-day art, a mixture of what Menden calls “hippie” art and “egocentrism”. Already Yoko Ono's action with John Lennon in bed was, in the opinion of the author, a piece of “Nabelschau” (“navel-gazing”). The picture of one her pieces that features John Lennon seems to argue that this woman Yoko Ono is just using her belated husband for her own ambitious endeavors. Well well, wouldn't that be a nice refreshing change after all these women hidden behind famous men? 

The typical scenario: Women who have “made it” and have a clear sense of self (because without it they would not have made it in this male dominated art world) are punished while male artists are allowed to be as selfish and narcissistic as possible – the more Ego they are, actually, the better they sell. “Hate” is also a word that does not exist in the vocabulary on male artists. A woman artist thinks about peace and a better world and it is immediately considered to be “kitsh” and “hippie”. Male artists can be mystic as hell, exhibiting reindeers at christmas time, and the art world reacts in full admiration. In short, the art world is not free of hierarchies, far from, nor is the way we still perceive art by female artists.

Naomi Wolf has written a great article in The Guardian on another very much “hated” woman: Madonna. In the following I will quote extensively out of this article titled Madonna acts just like a serious male artist would – and people hate her for it. Wolf's arguments about the lack of permission for female artists to be big, to make big gestures and even big mistakes, can also be used in my opinion for Yoko Ono's reception in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Is Madonna a self-absorbed megalomaniac with a touch of the arriviste? Probably; but so are dozens of equally brilliant male artists in other mediums, whose imperfect but worthwhile new efforts are treated with hushed awe (see the reverence accorded the solemn and often tedious Tom Ford film, A Single Man).”

An important point that Naomi Wolf makes, is that Madonna refuses to get into the mode of "don't hate me for my success, don't hate me for my power" and the press hates her for it: 

She doesn't pretend to the press that she thinks she is not talented, or suggest that she happened to make high-level art for decades unconsciously, or by accident, or in her sleep. She doesn't parade her vulnerabilities; she does not play the victim. She is not continually letting us in to the details of some battle with bulimia or weight problems or health problems or drug abuse, or the way her heart always seems to get broken (fill in likeable talented/wealthy/successful actress, musician, etc here). Nor does she complain about how hard it is to juggle work and family, or let us into photo shoots where we see the banal and recognizable rituals of grocery shopping or ferrying kids, so that we can know reassuringly that she is JUST LIKE US (fill in likeable female politician/news anchor here).”

The online discussion that followed Naomi Wolf's article got very tensed. In the discussion Wolf makes another great point about the difference between “dislike” and “contempt”: “People may not like what a male artist does with this sort of thing (the own sexuality) people tend not to say HOW DARE YOU.....distaste and contempt are quite different and contempt I would argue is more caustic -- also the real issue is not how does Madonna feel about being criticized; it is: what messages do creative or ambitious women get about what they can 'get away with'?


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