The work of Linda Nochlin has been an embarrassment of riches for me. As a feminist artist, her pioneering feminist art historical research and writing has been instrumental to the development of my work. When I was a young artist fresh out of grad school in the late 1980s I met Linda at a College Art Association Annual Conference where she was giving a keynote speech. I carried a dog-eared copy of Women, Art, and Power & Other Essays with me, and I introduced myself to her and asked if she would sign it. She said sure, if I would help her get her lecture pages in the right order! Besides that signed copy, on my table in my studio I always have a copy of Nochlin’s “The Body in Pieces: The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity,” her 1994 Walter Neurath Memorial Lecture at the National Gallery in London.
Nochlin’s work has been enormously inspiring to my artistic and conceptual development. The vestiges, ghosts, and evidence are lurking in every single project, manifesting many of her ideas into my concrete forms, from the early Erotic Watercolors (1993 – 95) (up-close-cropped headless female bodies—think Courbet’s Origin of the World), Pony Tales (1997) (portraits of horses—Géricault), Tack Room (1998) (equestrian architectural environment), The Domain of Perfect Affection (1999) (fetish objects), and Luxury Real Estate paintings (2001) (aerial views of rising bourgeoisie lifestyle); to Memorial To A Marriage (2002) (mortuary statue for a female couple—Courbet’s Sleep) and Harriet Hosmer: Lost and Found, A Catalogue Raisonné (2007 – 09) (an important female artist missing in history); to Dante: The Way of All Flesh (2012) (agonizing bodies in pain—Géricault); to my current project, Shrine For Girls, Venice (2015), a solo Collateral Event in the 56th Venice Biennale and Rail Curatorial Project (missing/murdered girls—Courbet’s Burial at Ornans).
My postmodern-aesthetic strategy has been to inject all these traditional images and forms (many from the 19th century, where realism and symbolism collapse) with my specific contemporary political content. Without Nochlin’s revolutionary feminist reading revealing to us the political truths in, or missing from, our most celebrated works in art history, I never would have been able to take some of those same images and forms and subvert them further in my work. I literally took my cues from her essays and books.
I’ve taken from Nochlin’s histories and teased out of them a contemporary reiteration, reimagining. Her work on Géricault is still rolling around in my head; the disembodied/mutilated stacked body parts, decapitation, his focus on men and horses, and his noticeable absence of women. Bodies, horses, and missing women. Nochlin’s insightful reflections on the artist’s irrevocable loss, nostalgia, and grief for a loss of a utopian wholeness through cropped bodies and pictorial planes really resonated with me.
The body for me, to agree with Nochlin, is “not just a site of desire, but if you have a longer view of art history, is also a site for suffering and death”—with all the metaphorical and conceptual implications, permutations, and artistic opportunities for reflection and subversion. Her life’s work is an intellectual and feminist inheritance, a debt that can never be repaid.
PATRICIA CRONIN is an artist. She lives in Brooklyn.