So far, one of the best parts about sabbatical has been the ability to attend events previously ruled out by time constraints. A few weeks back, I attended the opening of the exhibition Groundbreaking: The Women of the Sylvia Sleigh Collection and selections from the Sister Chapel installation
I used Judy Blum’s papers at Duke during my visit this year. She painted Betty Friedan for the Sister Chapel, and I’d viewed work by some of the artists in the show, but it was a pleasure to see them in person. I’d really like to see a complete installation of the Sister Chapel.
“The Sister Chapel” is a series of nine-foot canvases – including Alice Neel’s Bella Abzug (1976) and Sleigh’s Lilith (1976) – which were part of a historic 1978 collaborative installation (“The Sister Chapel”) by 13 women artists. Conceived by Ilise Greenstein as a secular, nonhierarchical circle of monumental paintings that celebrate heroic women, the contributors were Edelheit, Gorelick, Kurz, Mailman and Wybrants, all of whom are represented in the Sleigh collection, as well. Lilith was donated to the gallery by Sleigh’s estate and Neel’s Bella Abzug was recently gifted by an anonymous donor.
The impulse behind the Sister Chapel was similar to that of the feminist cultural activism that I’m writing about, a collaborative effort to re-work history for women. Thankfully for me, Andrew Hottle is writing a book about The Sister Chapel. In the almost two decades now that I’ve been working in L.A. feminism the biggest change has been the ability to contextualize my work against that of other scholars. I am able to write a much bigger book now then I ever could have in the ’90s.