Gender Check
Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe

Gender Check was the first comprehensive exhibition featuring art from Eastern Europe since the 1960s focusing on gender roles. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, curator Bojana Pejić, along with a team of experts from 24 different countries, put together a selection of more than 400 works including paintings, sculpture, installations, photography, posters, films and videos. The exhibition featured more than 200 artists and thus painted an exceptionally diverse picture of a certain chapter in art history that has remained largely undiscovered until recently, and which could have a significant impact on contemporary gender discourse. Gender Check followed the shifts and changes in the representation of male and female role models in art, taking a particular look at how they develop under different socio-political conditions.

The exhibition showed the interrelationship between art and history, taking both a chronological and thematic approach. Up to the 1960s, heroic male and female workers were the dominant figures in the socialist realist artistic tradition. At the time, unofficial art reacted to the state’s reality-transforming programme of a “sexless society” with irony and exposed it for what it was. Following the period of collective state utopian aesthetics, a variety of individual and more open tendencies emerged on a local level – periodically provoking a hostile response — that created independent spaces for nonconformist art.

From the 1970s onwards, artists began to revisit ideals of femininity and masculinity and go beyond the propagandist clichés of the past. Self-portraits and representations of the body and subjectivity began to hint at a newfound self-confidence that was also reflected in open displays of sexuality, calling heterosexual standards and heroic ideals of masculinity into question. Even many of the abstract pieces worked with anthropomorphic forms and the relationship between the sexes within society. The emancipation from traditional role models went hand-in-hand with emancipation from traditional means of expression, as new media and art forms such as photography, film, video and performance became increasingly important. At the same time, more and more female artists began to gain prominence.

With the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the end of Socialist regimes, new challenges emerged in the face of rising nationalism and neoliberal influences from the West. The newly won freedoms were accompanied by neoconservative role constraints that soon also became the topic of artworks. Feminist theory critiqued chauvinist, militaristic, misogynist and xenophobic ideologies. Homosexuality became a more prominent issue. Clichés about motherhood and traditional, religion-inspired ideals of femininity and patriarchal power structures came under attack. To underline the political and public significance of female identity, artists made allusions to historical allegories of femininity.

MUMOK, Vienna
13 November 2009 – 14 February 2010
Exhibition Opening: 12 November 2009, 7 p.m.
Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (MUMOK)
Museumsplatz 1, A-1070 Vienna, Austria

Zachęta, Warsaw
20 March – 13 June 2010
Exhibition Opening: 19 March 2010, 7 pm
Zachęta National Gallery of Art
Pl. Malachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warsaw, Poland