Where feminist art began: Revisiting ‘Womanhouse’

Doesn't look historic, but the grounds on which this building sits played an important role in art history
Doesn’t look historic, but the grounds on which this building sits played an important role in art history

533 N. Mariposa Avenue is an ordinary looking apartment building on a hilltop in the nether land between Koreatown and Los Feliz.  The most remarkable thing about this quiet street is its view of the Griffith Park Observatory.  But the ground on which it sits turns out to be a hallowed bit of contemporary art history.

CreatingFuture_FINALBack in 1972, pioneering artists Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, along with 21 students in their Feminist Art Program at the then-new school, CalArts, took over the dilapidated Victorian structure on that land and converted it into a pop-up art gallery–tinged with political and social messages that few people dared to utter at the time.

Pivot-point in feminist art history: Menstruation Bathroom by Judy Chicago
Pivot-point in feminist art history: Menstruation Bathroom by Judy Chicago

They called it Womanhouse, and while the idea of an all-women art exhibition, filled with radical riffs on the status of women, may seem quaint and retro today, back then it was eye-popping. Case in point: Professor Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom, strewn with used feminine supplies and viewable through a filmy, gauze curtain.

Ten thousand people purportedly came to see Womanhouse during its month-long run, and some of its work is heralded today for its place in art history.  Not only did this effort put women on the map, says writer Michael Fallon, it also kickstarted Los Angeles as critical in the art world.

Writer Fallon attended UC Berkeley and Cal State Fullerton; he grew up in SoCal during the 60s and 70s
Michael Fallon attended UC Berkeley and Cal State Fullerton; he grew up in SoCal during the 60s and 70s

I chose this location as the backdrop of my talk with Fallon, a long-time arts writer and southern California native who is the author of a newly released book titled Creating the Future: Art and Los Angeles in the 1970s.

Womanhouse, he said, “was really meant to confront the social attitudes of the time and say, ‘You know, we’re here, we exist, and we’re important.’  Women weren’t allowed to show in galleries at the time.”

Read an excerpt here: Creating The Future