From the moment she decamped from Paradise Island to help save the world in 1941, Wonder Woman was an instant feminist icon. As her mom, the Queen of the Amazons, put it, “We are not only stronger and wiser than men — but our weapons are better — our flying machines are further advanced!” No wonder that gal still inspires well into her eighth decade.
Her feisty spirit radiates from “WonderWomen,” a smart, savvy show by nearly 50 international artists, all women. Thought-provoking, richly sourced and just plain fun, it’s a must-see exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery. In addition to a replica of the first 1941 Charles Moulton comic quoted above, the show features contemporary photos, videos, installations, paintings and art ranging from banners to knitwear, thumb puppets, shower curtains and wallpaper. Great pieces by young Minnesota talents, vintage Los Angeles feminists and veteran New Yorkers spice the display.
Given its feminist bona fides, the show naturally skewers some stereotypes. Jolly hardworking Aunt Jemima appears as a cartoon scrubwoman affixed to an old-fashioned miniature washboard in a Betye Saar sculpture. Instead of scrub rags, though, she’s packing guns and the slogan “Extreme times call for extreme heroines.” In Rebecca Parham’s sophisticated video, “Bottled Opera,” a computer-generated, black opera singer is compelled to perform in country western, punk rock and other pop formats before literally shattering expectations and ending on an operatic high note.
In two deftly staged photos, Nicole Houff uses dolls to suggest Barbie’s “Dirty Laundry” and her limited, albeit glamorous, 1960s-era career as an airline stewardess. In the 1970s a Los Angeles performance-art duo, the Waitresses, cheerfully mocked their sometimes-jobs with impromptu performances as “Wonder Waitresses” in local coffee shops, hilariously documented in period photos. In a set of nine photos, Barbara Kruger recast the Victorian-era admonishment, “Children should be seen and not heard,” as a feminist manifesto: “We will no longer be seen and not heard.”
Traditional women’s crafts are smartly updated in knit-and-felt running shoes by Nina Braun, a Berlin-based Italian artist; videos starring thumb-sized knit characters (Paul Bunyan, Santa, squid sushi) by Chicago-artist Anna Hrachovec; bizarre shower curtains featuring ominous bunnies by Hyein Lee; clever feminist wallpaper by Jennifer Camper; and a chandeliered installation that Minneapolis artist Rachel Girard designed to house her spooky ceramic-headed rabbit dolls.
And then there’s “Maiden Voyage,” a mysterious film in which a pair of Korean-American artists, Katherine Behar and Marianne M. Kim (performing under the pseudonym Disorientalism), disguise themselves as Indian maidens tracking the Land O’Lakes princess who turns out to be a casino diva in a limo.
Surprises abound throughout this endlessly engaging show. All visitors should test out what it feels like to be a stereotypical stiletto-wearing woman by literally walking a few feet in her shoes. Cheri Gaulke, a Los Angeles-based MCAD grad, has assembled a wall display of red spiked heels sized from women’s 5 to men’s 14½ that visitors may try on while watching a video of people tripping about in them on Hollywood Boulevard.
If you’re not a stiletto regular, it’s harder than you might think.
When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Ends Feb. 14.
Where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery, 405 21st Av. S., Mpls. 612-624-7530 or www.art.umn.edu/nash.
Reception and fashion show: 7-10 p.m. Feb. 14, free.