Approaching Futility, 1976
Dinner for One, 1967
Fear Death by Water, 1987
He and She, 1964-1965
Homage to the Old Men at the Houston Hotel, 1976
Terminal Piece, 1972
The Maja Rediscovered, 1976
Oppression and Pleasure, 2009
Kate Millett, Oppression and Pleasure
was curated by Heide Hatry and exhibited in 2009 at Pierre Menard Gallery, Cambridge, MA. and at Hatry Loft, Brooklyn, NY
Celebrating Kate Millett's life and work at Judson Memorial Church
Good afternoon. My name is Heide Hatry. I am an artist – like Kate both a conceptual artist and a feminist artist. I greatly admire Kate and her art, and a few years ago I even curated an exhibition of her work at Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts and showed it in Brooklyn as well.
For all her extraordinary accomplishments in other realms, Kate Millett has always thought of herself as a sculptor. Her tenacious pride in her calling, in light of all that she has done, profoundly honors the life and practice of the sculptor. It has been remarked by more than one critic that the diversity of Kate’s talents and the complexity of her personality have served her ill, dooming her to the misunderstanding of the public. In our time, we are prepared to honor an artist or a writer or a philosopher or a social critic or a scholar or a crusader for justice but not an artist and a writer and a philosopher and a social critic and a scholar and a crusader for justice. Perhaps we distrust the sincerity, or the devotion, of the polymorphous. We admire the lust for life when it knows how to restrain itself.
Yet, for all her diverse interests and abilities, Kate is a single-minded artist. Though like any serious artist, her work has evolved over time, and the perception of the world it bespeaks has matured, or darkened, both her sculpture and her graphic work have always been characterized by a clean, spare, subtle, almost austere elegance and a distinct social and political focus. From her early neo-Dadaist or Fluxoid constructions, in their conceptual ambiguity and frequent elements of whimsy, through the unsettling Small Mysteries Series and other cage-based installations, to the later more issue-focused Dada objects, there is a stylistic continuity that reflects both the abiding influence of her early experience in Japan and in the company of her fellow-artist/husband Fumio Yoshimura and the intimacy of her relationship to her material. And there is a conceptual consistency that immediately identifies the work as hers – the angst of the later work is the ambiguity, or the ludic humor, of the early work in a different register.
Kate’s principal concern as a theorist, the analysis of insidious patriarchy, which her frequently not terribly subtle critics have tended to reduce to an un-nuanced stridency, is incorporated in her visual art as visceral experience – the uncertain, vulnerable, ominous, experience of women – which, accordingly, requires interpretation. The depiction of humans as furniture in her early work -- women as trappings of patriarchy, as functional, buyable objects, and men no less reduced to roles beyond their conscious control, and both out of synch with each other – reflects Kate’s dawning consciousness, the drawing-room sensibility of a well-raised young woman of her time seeing through the ill-hidden contradictions of patriarchal hegemony. The work of the post-Sylvia Likens era, with its already subdued and bound figures further secured in lonely cages, bespeaking both inner and outer captivity -- programmatic torture and deformation at the most intimate and the most comprehensive levels -- reflects a grim, but unflinching, understanding of patriarchal society, and the fear that it is inescapable. The animated furniture, expressing its own dissatisfaction with its state of subverted individuality has been replaced with figures prevented from expressing anything at all, their cages delicate and elegant, pointless ladders of an equally refined character offering only deceptive suggestions of paths to freedom.
There are in Kate’s work elements of American critical art movements of her day. It is certainly apt to see her in the axis of figures like H. C. Westermann, Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, George Segal, and May Wilson, among others, the politically and socially conscious avant-garde of the sixties and seventies. It is widely accepted that there is no avant-garde nowadays, that its time has passed, and this may be explained by the fact that the all-pervasive market is always there awaiting any work that might come to light, immediately absorbing it, an eventuality in which art itself has been complicit for decades. And this would explain the current fascination with the repressed avant-gardes of the second-generation Abstract Expressionist and Pop eras: we are desperately looking for an art that can still address larger and ever more intractable realities, and it seems we can find it only by returning to the points at which history made its wrong turns in the past, much as we might have to return to questions which the unconscious course of time has “resolved” by trampling over them if we wish to see the radical dreams of the likes of Kate Millett finally addressed in broad daylight.
I mentioned last night to Kate’s and my mutual friend, Catharine MacKinnon, that I would speak a bit about Kate’s art today, knowing that she has long admired and, in fact, lived with it. She sent me the following reflection about Kate’s beautiful, spare, Japanese-influenced brush paintings, which, since I have not specifically addressed them, and since I, too, find them captivating and life-enriching, I offer in closing:
I love her innovative but almost classically restrained use of color, and the sensuous evocation of women's bodies as if from the inside out, so you feel them rather than look at them, in a way, when you inhabit her paintings. I live with them centrally in my life and feel touched by them in the least intrusive imaginable way.
Kate is certainly a critic, both in her writing and in her art, but she is also very distinctly and fundamentally an artist. As Kierkegaard said of the poet, “Hers is a voice so constructed that her howls of pain reach our ears as beautiful song.” Please keep howling, Kate.
Heide Hatry, 2012