Culture

Crossing the Line of Gender and Art

An interview with Lili Chopra, FIAF Artistic Director, founder of Crossing the Line

An interview with Lili Chopra, FIAF Artistic Director, founder of Crossing the Line.

Boys will be boys… or so you might think.

The brilliant works of George Sand, a 19th century female novelist, were not her only fiction. Her name was, too. George Sand true name was Amantine Dupin.

Similarly, Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women’s, started her publishing career as a “man.”

It doesn’t end there. Novelist Isak Dinesen was really Karen Blixen, and George Eliot was a woman as well.

Time and time again, woman have hidden behind male pen names to be taken more seriously.

Even while little girls spend time coloring canvases with with crayons and paint, the Visual Arts, creative expression driven ostensibly by “feminine” sensibilities, has not historically been an arena for feminine accomplishment. Not only have men dominated headlines in art archives, but they also chair the chief posts of museums and galleries, and take center stage in art shows. Even art, something so stereotypically marked as “feminine,” is still largely defined by male direction.

The under-appreciation of women artists is evident in museum collections, auction prices, and professional wages worldwide. While 51% of visual artists today are women, only 5% of the work on American museum walls is by women.

Like many female novelists, women artists often hide in the shadows, using gender-ambiguous names to hid their true identity. An abstract expressionist artist and one of the first women to have an exclusive show at MoMA, Lee Krasner chose to sign her work with gender-ambiguous initials, and is still largely eclipsed by society’s memory of her husband, Jackson Pollock.

According to this sobering post from Cleveland Institute of Art (spring 2015) “the under-appreciation of women artists is evident in museum collections, auction prices, and professional wages worldwide. While 51% of visual artists today are women, only 5% of the work on American museum walls is by women. Work by women makes up only 5% of major permanent collections in the United States and Europe.”

Girls will be girls… Coming Out of the Shadows?

All this being said, 2015 could be a groundbreaking year for women of all professions. With more than two women running for president, female athletes breaking records, and many NY and national museum and gallery shows devoted to women, the year seems promising.

As a woman at the top of the non-profit art world, Chopra’s perspective is enlightening.

I spoke with Lili Chopra, Artistic Director of NY’s French Institute Alliance Française and founder of international arts festival Crossing the Line, which is now in its 9th year. As a woman at the top of the non-profit art world, Chopra’s perspective is enlightening.

Lili Chopra (c) Jack Meyer Middle

BWB: As a woman in the arts, what obstacles did you have to overcome?

I grew up in Paris, but my career really started and flourished in NYC. After my graduate studies in theater and performing art in Paris, I earned a second Master’s Degree in Arts Administration from Columbia University. Personally, I don’t feel I had to overcome many obstacles. Fortunately for me, the non-profit art world is a female-oriented industry. The majority of people working in the field are women.

BWB: Who were your mentors?

I had many professional role models that gave me confidence that I could be a success. These include Marie Collin from the festival d’Automne in Paris, Marie-Monique Steckel, FIAF’s President, and Diane von Furstenberg, with whom I worked closely for about a year.

BWB: Since you grew up in Paris and work for FIAF, can you sense a difference in women’s roles in France and the US? The two French women artists in this year’s Crossing the Line, for example, use fashion to make statements. Is fashion the only artistic venue women are accepted in France? Is chauvinism more of a problem there?

Yes I believe that’s the case. In France, it seems that women have more of a glass ceiling than in NY. Oftentimes, they lack necessary confidence, are not as assertive as men, and keep a low profile. They compensate by working very hard to earn their success. In New York, women are much less shy.

BWB: Many studies show that women still have a long way to achieve recognition in the arts (as directors of museums, in art exhibits, or as gallery owners). What are your thoughts on this?

Generally, women make up the workforce while men run the show. That’s the case in the hierarchy at many museums, and in the work force in general.

As an art festival, we cultivate relationships with performing artists pushing genres. We’re also known for nurturing emerging artists.

BWB: Can you tell me about the two women selected for this year’s festival? How were they chosen?

Elena Langer’s project, What I Live By, is a logo for a product-less brand designed to encourage reflection. Langer invites audiences to attach the logo to things we already own, in essence to reclaim our values, sense our identity and rethink our relationship to goods and consumption. Olivia Bransbourg, curator, artist, and publisher of avant-garde cult magazine, ICONOfly, takes an important fashion accessory, sneakers, on a journey around the city, collaborating with other artists and inviting audiences to consider the impact. As an art festival, we cultivate relationships with performing artists pushing genres. We’re also known for nurturing emerging artists.

elana_langer_WhatILiveBy2(c)DeBusmayeff MIDDLE

BWB: How does Crossing the Line differ from the Guggenheim which often exhibits conceptual, emerging or performance artists?

Unlike the Guggenheim, we’re not a museum, we’re a festival – We are also dedicated to the performing arts world as a whole. We work within a multitude of formats at different locations in the city.

BWB: Am I wrong to think that although the artists you’ve assembled are not exclusively French, the festival has a French flair?

There’s a real French DNA here. In France, artists matter. They’re respected. We believe placing artists in an important context makes you grow.

I’m very hopeful for the decades to come. I think women will continue to make strides, be recognized, and change the system. The future will see many more women leaders.

BWB: This year has many gallery and museum exhibits finally recognizing women artists. Outside the art world, many women are breaking boundaries. Two women are running for president. Is this a breakthrough year for women in the arts?

I don’t know if it’s a breakthrough year. We still have a ways to go. But I’m very hopeful for the decades to come. I think women will continue to make strides, be recognized, and change the system. The future will see many more women leaders.

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FIAF’s Crossing the Line, curated by Lili Chopra, Simon Dove, and Gideon Lester, can be seen on location in NYC and at FIAF from September 10 – October 4.

You can catch many artistic achievements by women in NYC this fall, including:

Doris Salcedo, sculptor, (early fall) and Agnes Martin (October – January 2017) at the Guggenheim;

Britni West who made her directorial debut with award-winning film Tired Moonlight showing at MoMA early fall;

Patchmakers devoted to women artists neglected by Modernist scholars (early fall)

Dead Treez, multimedia Jamaica artist Ebony Patterson at Museum of Design & Art (Nov 2015-April 2016) Every Little Thing: a movie produced, director, and written by women (both screenplay and novel), with an all-star women cast.

Feature Image: Elana Langer:  Hanna Agar
Portrait of Lili Chopra: Jack Meyer

Lisa Stahl

Lisa Stahl, a native New Yorker, has authored many articles that graced the cover pages of magazines and websites. She’s the author of two distance-learning courses on fashion and contributed substantial research and content on politics and foreign policy to three books by a political analyst and adviser to Hillary Clinton.  Lisa’s achievements include an MA in English with honors from Columbia University.
She also studied piano at Juilliard.

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