press release

Some of the most influential art made in recent decades has focused on issues of identity, and women artists of previous generations, from Hannah Wilke (1940-1993) to Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), are well known for their critiques of the stereotypes of femininity. Although the historical context for Girls' Night Out is informed by the pioneering conceptual and aesthetic work of these artistic forerunners, the exhibition reflects a new sensibility that has grown out of the influence of feminism on art and society, and the corresponding progress women have been able to achieve.

Girls' Night Out brings together works produced during the past decade by an international and intergenerational group of women: Eija-Liisa Ahtila (b. 1959, lives in Helsinki), Elina Brotherus (b. 1972, lives in Paris), Dorit Cypis (b. 1951, lives in Los Angeles), Rineke Dijkstra (b. 1959, lives in Amsterdam), Katy Grannan (b. 1969, lives in New York), Sarah Jones (b. 1959, lives in London), Kelly Nipper (b. 1971, lives in Los Angeles), Daniela Rossell (b. 1973, lives in Mexico City), Shirana Shahbazi (b. 1974, lives in Zurich), and Salla Tykkä (b. 1973, lives in Helsinki). Bringing a divergent range of expression to their exploration of identity, these artists share an interest in classical genres such as portraiture, architectural space, and landscape, as well as a respect for a rigorously formalistic approach to technique and subject.

Central to Girls' Night Out is the idea of the girl-a term that has regained currency when applied to women in an affirmative manner, especially by other women-and the exhibition's title reflects a generational shift that has brought the use of this word back into play. Although youth culture has dominated fashion and the popular media since the 1960s, with an emphasis on girlish styles and bodies, the early feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, also known as the women's movement, was focused on asserting the independence and power of women. The use of the term girl, when applied to grown women, was considered patronizing and demeaning. In recent years, the word girl has been reclaimed by a wide range of young women. The evolution of a new girl culture-and the increasingly central and empowered role that girls and women have played in politics, mass media, and other professions-finds its parallel in the art world. Feminist artists of the late 1960s and 1970s drastically changed the content of traditional media, such as painting and sculpture, and at the same time pushed photography, performance, video, and installation art to the fore.

Many of the photographs and the film and video installations in Girls' Night Out fall somewhere in between performative practices (such as Sherman's groundbreaking images of female stereotypes, focused on a fictive staging of the self) and the subject-revealing documentary reportage pioneered by the likes of Nan Goldin (b. 1953). Employing what might be called a staged realism, many of the artists in Girls' Night Out take an almost ethnographic approach to their subjects, as each in her own very distinct way seeks to strip away or unveil the outward trappings of womanhood. In contrast to Sherman's remarkable review of the myriad masks imposed on, and worn by, women, the work in Girls' Night Out reflects an interest in what's beneath the surface. By getting inside the bodies and minds of her subjects, Athila's films expose the impact on women's psyches of constructing and wearing the mask. Dijkstra waits patiently behind her camera for the moment when the mask drops and psychological immediacy takes over. Grannan works with her youthful models in their own homes or chosen environments to find a place outside the pose. Tykkä struggles to free herself from imposed social models by sharing some of the most painful and intimate moments in the awakening of female sexuality. The formal beauty of Nipper's highly choreographed work coexists with the chance occurrences and self-revelations that emerge from beneath the surface as she explores the relationship between motion, time, body, and space. Shahbazi's girls and women navigate the contradictory divide between Islamic tradition and modern Western society, literally veiling and unveiling the contradictory identity of her native Iran. The masked faces of Jones's adolescent subjects, staged in the carefully composed domestic environments of the English bourgeoisie, cast a pall over her scenes, their composed expressions locked into prescribed roles and premature atrophy. Rossell's photographs of young women assuming seductive poses within their affluent homes reminds us of the entrapment of the mask and of its ability to subsume or subvert the self. In her innumerable self-portraits and landscapes, Brotherus conveys the lonely pursuit of self-determination outside social imperatives through her tongue-in cheek showcasing of the humiliations of youthful failures to live up to expectations. Cypis's investigations into the difference between the gaze of a woman and the gaze by a woman suggests the ongoing desire for self-discovery and openness to the unknown-she reminds us of the possibilities opened up in letting the mask slip away.

Through their exploration of this potential, the artists in Girls' Night Out offer a multiplicity of views on the personal and social space that we inhabit today. They confidently portray girls and women, as well as boys and men, in private and public contexts without feeling the need to challenge or critique stereotypes. Perhaps more significantly, they approach their work with a critical honesty that transcends satire and irony, putting their faith in the power of the unconscious and the unseen. In their works, identity is less about socially assigned roles and more about an investigation of subjective experience. The images they present are at once poetic and disturbing, haunting and beautiful, groundbreaking and classic. Here the idea of girl does not represent the feminine per se, but instead embodies a vulnerability and at the same time a sense of unbounded potentiality that is essentially human.

This text was excerpted and adapted from 'Girl, Unmasked,' an essay by Elizabeth Armstrong from the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Girls' Night Out.

Girls' Night Out was organized by the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California. The exhibition is presented by Neutrogena.

Additional support has been provided by James B. Pick and Rosalyn M. Laudati, Joan and Don Beall, Visionaries, LEF Foundation, the Women's Consortium of the Orange County Museum of Art, Christine and Jeff Masonek, FRAME Finnish Fund for Art Exchange, Patricia and Max Ellis, Anita Kunin Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation, The Consulate General of the Netherlands in Los Angeles, and an anonymous donor.

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Girls' Night Out

mit Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Elina Brotherus, Dorit Cypis, Rineke Dijkstra, Katy Grannan, Sarah Jones, Kelly Nipper, Daniela Rossell, Shirana Shahbazi, Salla Tykkä