Subversive women of Pop Art.

by Jeanne Chinard

As a young woman coming of age in the late sixties, I was lucky enough to live in Greenwich Village and have cheap, or free, access to every gallery and museum in New York. It was the height of the Vietnam War and women’s lib was just beginning to explode, fueled in large part by the readily available and revolutionary birth control pill. 

But even as the pill was starting to give women more sexual freedom, the Playboy Club was the most popular men’s destination in Manhattan. And in universities, in business, in the art world and in society, women were still viewed through a warped lens. You could achieve anything – up to a point. Being educated and informed was fine, as long as you didn’t go public with it.  You might even be successful – unless you had children. As a result, all of the art we were hungry to see every Sunday afternoon was created by men.

We’ve come along way, right? From the significant presence of women in the 2010 Whitney Biennial or the many global solo shows of rising artists, the art world has slowly begun to recognize and applaud women artists. Which is why my reaction to the Brooklyn Museum exhibit, “Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958-1968,” came as such a surprise to me. Because even though I consider myself supremely liberated, as I went through the exhibit I started to feel surprisingly empowered.

Why would I feel that way if we’ve come such a long way? I was dismayed to realize that an entire show of women artists is still the exception in 2010. But I was stunned to learn how talented these artists were and yet are barely known today. They didn’t just experiment with Pop Art, but they explored and helped create Abstract Expressionism and Photorealism as well. They influenced the culture, and undoubtedly the many iconic male artists they knew well, such as Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Willem de Kooning, among others. These women were substantial, serious artists.

And yet… in the magazines and newspaper articles that accompanied each artist’s work, it was easy to see the most celebrated were also the most attractive. In fact, several of the artists were known as much, or more, for their looks and edgy glamour as they were for their art.  Marisol, Pauline Boty, Niki de Saint Phalle, were beautiful women with “you can’t ignore me” personalities. Today, their social lives would be avidly chronicled on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Indeed, the beautiful and tragic Pauline Boty was compared to Brigitte Bardot, yet she was central to the British Pop Art movement. In fact, she was the only female artist in a four “man” show with Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips, which was later hailed as Britain’s first Pop Art show.

A young woman today might ask why these artists we shouldn’t be celebrated as much for their sex appeal as for their art. Her generation doesn’t see any reason to separate glamour and power, so it’s hard for them to understand just how different attitudes towards women were not so very long ago. I suppose this is a good thing, and hopefully has happened because of what we went through when we were their age. But what my generation experience is exactly what makes the output of this earlier generation of women Pop artists even more significant to me.

As women, these artists were more exposed and had more to lose; yet many of them took more risks than their male counterparts. They had the imagination and the technical skill. And they experimented with materials, but also with message. It wasn’t just their art that was daring. They were also making political statements about women’s issues and women’s power, or lack of it, which the culture at large wasn’t ready to embrace. Their work may not have sold, but they forced the viewer to reconsider the degrading way women were treated in advertising and the media.

These artists were bold and in-your-face and supremely gifted. And yet, the two “positive” reviews of the show I read in The New York Times and Time Out were still somewhat dismissive of the work itself. They seem to qualify it, it was “good, but” - implying that if these women had been “really great artists,” their work would be better known today. I strongly disagree. I believe that if gallerists, established male artists and art critics had taken them seriously, they would be much better known and more highly considered today.

The fact truth is that in the late fifties and early sixties, most art critics refused to include female artists in art books and few gallery owners would show their work. 

If they did, it was often as the token woman or as a novelty. Idelle Weber, whose remarkable plexiglass cubes containing silhouettes of 1950’s businessmen could easily have been the inspiration for the opening credits of Madmen, was refused permission to audit a class by Robert Motherwell. The reason? He told her that because she was a married woman who wanted children she could never become a serious artist. Rosalyn Drexler exhibited with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and yet is not widely known today. Nor is the sculptor Marisol who had a successful first exhibition at The Leo Castelli Gallery. Nor Evelyne Axell, who studied privately with René Magritte.

So if it was their intelligence and talent that drove them to create, it was their sex, their beauty and their moment in time that left them in the artistic dust. 

These “subversive” artists didn’t fail to become household names because their art wasn’t good enough. They failed to become household names because the global art machine is still dominated by men. If not, then why is this the first major New York exhibition of female Pop artists? Why are shows of women artists still a novelty? More important, why is the sex of an artist even an issue in the 21st century?

If you ever have a chance to see any of these artist, please do. Take your daughters and your granddaughters. Better yet, take your sons and your grandsons. 


Asian Women Giving Circle.

By Jeanne Chinard

I was recently privileged to attend the Asian Women Giving Circle’s Fourth Annual Celebration

of Activism at MOCA, The Museum of Chinese in America.

A serene and elegant structure, the museum was designed by the talented artist and architect, Maya Lin, well-known for her groundbreaking Vietnam Veterans Memorial and her more recent multi-media environmentally-focused “What is Missing.” The purpose of the event was to celebrate art as a means to ignite social change.

The Asian Women Giving Circle was started five years ago by a group of dedicated women to help the unrecognized Asian woman activist-artist in New York. This non-profit group gives support in the form of grants to “Asian women using the tools of art and culture to achieve their social justice goals.”

Even the smallest grants from the Giving Circle can give artists an opportunity to express their vision to a wider audience. Equally important, the resulting projects call attention to the more difficult issues which many Asian-American woman face - issues which are still under the radar as a result of persistent cultural taboos. Some of the devastating subjects these artists explore include mental illness, incest, economic enslavement and sexual exploitation. Their projects are raw and honest, and yet not without hope, and as such are incredibly inspiring.

I knew nothing about the Giving Circle beforehand, so the event was a revelation. For me, the most memorable part of the evening was the opportunity to speak with current and past grantees, some of who are both victim and artist. Unlike so many museum events I have attended, these interactions weren’t just chance cocktail-party encounters. Instead, guests were encouraged to have intimate, unhurried conversations with these artists. The event provided a rare and fascinating view of the artists’ “work-in-progress.” One project, Ping Chong & Company’s “Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors” features five victims of incest who share their personal experiences through a multi-media dramatic narrative. The courage of the grantees to give a personal voice to such controversial and painful issues was both moving and humbling.

It seems to me that we are living in an era of manipulated, corporatized art. Mega-shows like Art Basel promote the art of the stock portfolio - not art. In our ever-spinning media vortex, art that strives to communicate social issues is rarely seen or acknowledged and is often considered subversive. The artists who take up these challenges are often exiled, driven underground or forced to work anonymously.

The Giving Circle’s focus is on Asian women in New York, but sadly, the issues they communicate are global and touch women everywhere. The nine 2010 Grantees’ projects will serve to empower the community’s most vulnerable women, giving them an urgently needed way to regain their confidence and rediscover their own worth. At a time when charitable donations and support for the arts and social issues have diminished radically, the Asian Women Giving Circle is a unique creative solution to a critical social need. Even one small project can have a ripple effect that could spread around the world. The artists represent the hope that it is still possible for art to be a catalyst for social change as well as aesthetic transformation.




Baby, you can drive my car.

By Jeanne Chinard

It was a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC. I climbed in and my body was almost parallel to the road, as if I had been inserted lying down into a large leather glove - a very soft, sensual glove. Then the engine revved and it shot through the air, more like a missile than an automobile. What an amazing feeling! It was the most incredible car ride I have ever had.

So recently, while mindlessly flipping through the hundreds of HD channels on my cable system, I felt compelled to stop and watch a documentary about the Ferrari Factory on National Geographic. It followed the creation of a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano from inception to test drive, and it was unexpectedly riveting.

The best engineers, mechanics, leather artisans, and metal workers in the world compete for a chance to work at Ferrari. Once they are chosen, they work in ecologically balanced buildings with indoor trees and the optimum temperature for both man (or woman) and car. I would imagine that they also enjoy a drool-inducing cafeteria. (It is Italy, after all.) But it was clear that more important than the perks was the opportunity to take pride in something remarkable that they had helped create. Each worker took ownership of their part, their contribution. Although robots now do some of the assembly, most of the car is still handmade. The attention to small details is unrivaled - it is manufacturing elevated to artistry.

As much as I have always appreciated my first encounter with a Ferrari, I have never understood how any one could pay so much for a car – any car, no matter how special it was. But now I do. Simply put, this documentary did what no amount of car advertising has done before; it made me want to buy a Ferrari. And I am a woman. And I am sure that I am not alone.

So why then, do car companies and their marketers choose to overlook women in this country who have large bank accounts and who would be excited about the idea of buying and driving a car like a Ferrari? Why is the affluent American woman always portrayed as the passenger and never the driver in commercials for top of the line luxury sedans and performance sport cars? Do they still believe that boys play with cars, and girls get driven in them? Have they never heard of Liz Halliday or Milka Duno? (And why are the men so much older than the women in these commercials? I don’t want to broach this subject here -this phenomenon deserves an entire column.)

According to Zach Bowman at Autoblog, last year in China, “20% of the Ferraris sold were bought by women – which is four times the rate of Western women.” Apparently, Chinese businesswomen who are self-made millionaires see nothing strange in buying both a red- carpet gown and a comparably priced red-hot Ferrari.

In this country, automakers know that women influence almost 80% of car purchases. In fact, they make an intense effort to woo a certain type of woman: the 4x4-woman or the minivan- woman or the post-college-student woman. But many of these marketing efforts are condescending and sexist.

I‘ve concluded that when it comes to marketing cars to women, the auto industry is still living in the 1950’s. It is common knowledge that auto dealers in particular have always been notoriously insulting to women car buyers. It has gotten a little better in the last decade, yet recent studies show that 74% of women still say they feel misunderstood by automotive marketers.

Some automakers have put more women in top management positions, but if you take a look at the GM website you will see that most of their top managers are still male. (Not too different from the days I worked on the GM account and had to leave the top management floor to find a ladies room.) Men making decisions about what women think and want. How novel.

The affluent, GenmodernTM woman (whose children are now grown) spends billions on clothes, beauty, and travel a year, and she is very influenced by design, craftsmanship, and pedigree. A custom Hermès crocodile Birkin bag can cost $120,000. A few pairs of Christian Louboutin heels, a few Armani Privé suits, and a Christian Dior Haute Couture gown can add up to well over $100,000. It is estimated that in the next ten years, older women will control almost two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. With the right approach, these savvy women are ideal prospects for cars like the new Mercedes SLK55 AMG or 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid. But alas, the latest voiceover for Mercedes is that of Dan Draper, the womanizing chauvinist character Madmen! How appealing!

When I started my career in advertising, no one used women voiceovers, even for products that were only bought by women! I will never forget the client (male) who told me in a very condescending tone “You can’t use a female voice over - women only listen to men.” I suppressed a scream and lobbied behind the scenes for a female voice over. It was an absurd fight, but a small victory for me and (I hope) for women – and we ended up using a woman. The product sold very well. Time and results have proven me right; even most GPS devices use a woman’s voice.

Maybe some men can’t handle the idea of so many independent and well-heeled boomer women behind the wheel of an Audi R8 coupe or a BMW Z4 or a Porche 911. Then these men shouldn’t be in the business of selling cars to women.

Car marketers keep touting research that says that women only want safe, mid-range cars. Maybe that’s because car companies have never tried to sell us anything else. We don’t all have to buy Ferraris, but we might be lured by one of the sportier, high-end luxury cars, if someone would only bother to address us directly.

So maybe, these guys need to put the mid-priced cars in the garage for a while, and then let a woman take them for a spin in a Ferrari 599.

Any volunteers?

P.S. Although it takes up to three months to build just one 599 and the waiting list is two years long, at least you get to pick your own custom color. Personally, I can’t imagine owning a Ferrari that wasn’t red. Of course, it would have to be the right red. To match my Chanel lipstick. Rouge Allure in “Excessive,” n’est-ce pas? It will go so well with my hand-beaded red carpet gown.

P.P.S. omg. I just saw the new 2011 Tesla Roadster. It’s not only sexy- it’s electric. And it’s electric.


The Boomer Doll.

By Jeanne Chinard

Make no mistake about it, the Boomer Woman is still a force to be reckoned with. And ironically, it all started with a doll
 named Barbie.

In 1959, this petite, pretty young woman took the world by storm. She captivated a generation and exemplified what it meant to be a woman.

But as some of the little girls who played with her began to grow up, they discovered that Barbie's world – a world filled with curlers, cold cream and country clubs - just wasn’t enough. They realized that in order to reach their own potential, they would have to break the rules.

And make their own. They would go on to change the world and redefine what it means to be a woman. But today, instead of embracing the strength, sophistication and savvy that are the hallmarks of this remarkable group of women, marketers have just created
 a new doll – the Boomer Doll (TM).

You see her every night on television; that depressed, constipated, overweight, over-medicated woman who is obsessed with odors and would rather eat ice cream than have sex. She has become the most misunderstood, discriminated against, and undervalued consumer in the world.

From the way she is presented in the media, you would never think of her as owning or being an evangelist for Apple computers, Mini Coopers, Blackberry smartphones, Wii games, Burton Snowboards, Babolat tennis racquets, or season tickets to the Lakers. Nor would you conclude that she is actually an insatiable downloader of music, e-books and apps, not to mention the biggest presence on Facebook. But she is.

And she is angry at the way she is being portrayed. Smart. Motivated. Aware. I call her the GenModern (TM) woman.

With her intelligence, guts and style, she is still leading the way. She is the driving force of “the generation that won’t take old for an answer (TM).”

Ignore her at your peril.


Beauty creams that can make you age ten years.

by Jeanne Chinard

I was catching up on my magazines this weekend and as I turned the pages, I think I aged ten years.

This is some of what I saw.

First, an Estee LauderTM ad for new Resilience Lift Extreme Makeup. Resilience is a classic skincare collection in Estee Lauder beauty line. It is on the higher end in price, so it is presented as a luxurious but efficacious cream to use as your skin starts to age. When I was the Creative Director of Estee Lauder, I shot an ad for Resilience with Dayle Haddon. It was notable for the fact that she was actually age appropriate for the cream – which at the time was never done. So the new makeup – which I am sure, is wonderful – was introduced with a promise of youthful skin. But it was shown on a lovely model...who is 22 years old!!

It’s a “lift” makeup!! When you are 22, you do not need to have anything lifted.

The next beauty spread was for CliniqueTM, which also promised younger looking skin. Instantly. Sure. And do I look so bad that it has to work instantly?

At least the bottles were age neutral.

Next, opposite the masthead, Lancôme’s Absolue Precious Cells, which “recovers the visible signs of younger skin” – whatever that means.

Where did I leave them? And how about the invisible signs? Then, an ad for RoC®, a brand I love, which promised to give me 10 years back!

Ten years! I’d love to get the last ten years back – but please, don’t overpromise. If your formulas are good, you don’t have to.

Finally, a Dior ad for Capture Totale’s One Essential Skin Boosting Super Serum, with Sharon Stone as the model. It’s sophisticated and elegant. Yes, she’s probably had work done, but in this particular ad, unlike some others, she looks great. The ad addresses aging, but in a confident way. The words “age defying” are tucked into the first line of the copy. It’s discreet. It didn’t attack me, worry me, or try to scare me into buying it.

So it’s not that you can’t talk about aging. Oprah’s O magazine is chock full of articles and advice about being the best you can be, inside and out, at any age. Much of it is about growing older. It just doesn’t make you feel old.

So marketers, if you are going to place an ad in a magazine, please, read the magazine first. Be honest with your claims. Show age appropriate models. And don’t try to scare me. If you bludgeon me with how desperately I need to look younger, trust me, I am going to look for the brands that don’t.