The Medea Insurrection: Radical Women Artists Behind the Iron Curtain

A new exhibition at the Wende Museum will highlight a generation of risk-taking Eastern European women artists whose work has rarely been exhibited before now, alongside works by present-day Los Angeles artists enacting their own provocative challenges to established norms and hierarchies. The Medea Insurrection: Radical Women Artists Behind the Iron Curtain is the first major exhibition on critical, countercultural, and dissident women artists in Eastern Europe during the Cold War era. It opens November 10 at the Wende, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The exhibition has been organized in collaboration with the Albertinum (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden), where it was on view from December 8, 2018, to March 31, 2019. The Medea Insurrection was conceptualized and curated by Susanne Altmann for the Albertinum (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden). It has been adapted by the Wende Museum for its Culver City appearance.

Working under the radar of the authorities that defined acceptable art, radical women artists in the former Eastern Bloc challenged both socialist and bourgeois ideals and power, as well as a male-dominated canon. Their work was innovative, and the sheer act of making it was a risk. Yet even today, little is known about these courageous and critical artists.

The Medea Insurrection introduces viewers to multifaceted, multifarious work by artists including sculptor and textile artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (Poland); photographers Sibylle Bergemann (East Germany), Evelyn Richter (East Germany), Zofia Rydet (Poland), and Gundula Schulze-Eldowy (East Germany); mixed-media artists Orshi Drozdik (Hungary) and Anna Daučíková (Czechoslovakia); painter and graphic artist Angela Hampel (East Germany); sound and performance artist Katalin Ladik (Hungary); conceptual artist Natalia LL (Poland); and painter and graphic artist Karla Woisnitza (East Germany).

In Eastern Europe in the years before the fall of the Berlin Wall—as in many politically repressive times and places—artists turned to myths and archetypes to express countercultural messages. The Medea Insurrection is named after one complex archetype of female strength and fury, and Medea figures in the exhibition alongside Cassandra and Penthesilea in re-workings and re-imaginings that range from subtly anti-authoritarian to straight-up punk.

The Medea Insurrection shines a light on rarely exhibited women artists from the former Eastern Bloc and puts them in conversation with present-day artists from L.A. who are also using art to provoke, protest, and envision new ways of being in the world.

“As part of our mission to question the binary divisions of East and West, and past and present, the Wende pairs historical art and artifacts with contemporary art in almost every exhibition,” said Wende Chief Curator Joes Segal.

The L.A. artists in the show are the Afro-surrealist multidisciplinary artist Chelle Barbour, who will contribute new works based on items in the Wende collection; painter and mixed-media artist Lezley Saar; and performer/sculptor Sichong Xie, whose works address gender, cultural migration, and the relationship between individual agency and symbolic power.

“The Medea Insurrection centers artists who have been marginalized for too long, offering a different gaze on Eastern Bloc counterculture while complicating and expanding our ideas of subversive art by women in Europe during the 1960s through ’90s,” said Jessica Hoffmann, the Wende’s Deputy Director.

The Medea Insurrection: Radical Women Artists Behind the Iron Curtain is part of Wunderbar Together: The Year of German-American Friendship 2018/19, an initiative funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, implemented by the Goethe-Institut, and supported by the Federation of German Industries (BDI).

Image – Sibylle Bergemann, Heike, Berlin, 1988. Courtesy of Loock Gallerie.

Exhibition Opening

Sunday, November 10

12 to 5 p.m.

Chloe Ginnegar


The Actors' Gang

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