August 17, 2011 • In web :: Features
Feminist Art Gallery
Finally, an art gallery that celebrates feminist art and artists.
"Our interest in feminism binds us together and our supporters join us in the belief that art can be a powerful tool for social change." - Feminist Art Gallery
The first rumblings I heard about the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) were from filmmaker Elle Flanders as we sat passing time in an empty room at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus waiting for an audience at a feminist film and video night. A smirk ran across my face as she casually divulged the info she had, piece by piece: Artists Deidre Logue and Allyson Mitchell were organizing it; they already had a space in Parkdale in the west end of Toronto. It was actually happening. This magical thing many of us had dared to think about from time to time, a space for feminist art to grow was really going to happen here in Toronto.
Logue and Mitchell were the perfect team to do it. They invited feminist art big shots and young'uns, friends, activists, and creators to their home for a potluck, to sit down and talk and listen to what people would want from such a place. In attendance were Michelle Jacques (Curator of Contemporary art at the AGO), international feminist artist Suzy Lake, and video artist Alison SM Kobayashi, who reflected, "They just had everyone there!"
At this point early in the discussion, the gallery was just a dilapidated garage and a floor plan. One year later Kobayashi was having an opening for her A.S.M.K+F.A.G. exhibition there. "That's Deirdre and Allyson, they just get things done." Logue is the Development Director at Vtape (Canada’s leading artist-run, not-for-profit distributor of video art) and Mitchell is a professor at York University. Despite having busy full time jobs, not to mention running the gallery, the pair of established artists maintain an impressive creative output.
The pair were interested in creating an opportunity to reorganize existing power structures in the art world, and running a feminist gallery out of their home allowed them to do things differently. One way this is done is by offering emerging artists flexibility and trust. Kobayashi first thought of doing a show about a Boogey Man haunting the space but later changed her mind when she was inspired by a Polish phrasebook. Kobayashi didn’t feel the pressure to deliver on certain expectations, or to draw crowds; she felt free to focus and experiment. She was encouraged to show the "process behind the work," rather than one polished end-product.
"Often galleries require that work is verified and validated before it gets shown," says the FAG pair, "We don’t care about this." The success of this approach is clear in the enthusiasm of the crowds drawn to the events and exhibitions. There is no stale art opening feeling; instead there is laughter and exchange.
The community around the FAG gallery is both intentional and organic. The structure of how the gallery can sustain itself financially is experimental and has the ability to transform how we think about the relationship between art and funding. In what could be a manifesto, FAG writes:
"FAG has created a web of matronage, whereby people contribute a pool of resources to ensure that artists will always be paid for exhibiting their work. This type of structure allows FAG to remain committed to the artists we work with while resisting the need to meet the interests of governing powers and also cut through a lot of red tape. Our web of matronage also speaks to the community surrounding FAG – our visitors ensure that we continue to represent feminist artists and provide a space for feminist discourse. Our commitment to that community and keeping our donors undisclosed ensures all of our visitors are on a more equal level."