cover image The Story of Art Without Men

The Story of Art Without Men

Katy Hessel. Norton, $45 (512p) ISBN 978-0-393-88186-8

Overlooked female artists take their rightful place in the pantheon in art historian Hessel’s magisterial debut. Beginning with the Renaissance, Hessel covers “significant shifts or moments” in mostly Western art history, including the French Revolution and how its refounded artists’ academies, which had been rid of aristocratic associations, enabled an “influx of middle class female artists.” Elsewhere, Hessel profiles the post-WWI birth of Dadaism and how its “fearless” female adherents such as German Hannah Höch, known for her political collages, and multidisciplinary Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp were “unafraid to poke fun at political figures and caricature their male contemporaries.” Sections on the 19th century cover female contributors to movements such as impressionism and surrealism, and discuss key themes, including civil rights art and queer art. While Hessel touches on the barriers that kept female artists from mainstream success, she devotes most of the book to analyzing their works, contending, for example, that 20th-century Welsh-born painter Sylvia Sleigh “repossess[ed] the male-dominated” conventions of art history by depicting “men in provocative and Venus-like poses.” Hessel makes room for an impressively wide array of art forms, including fiber works and quilting, and is careful to situate her subjects within social and political contexts, instead of framing them as “the wife of, the muse of, the model of” more celebrated male contemporaries. The result is a vital and necessary corrective. Photos. (May)