Poster advertising the controversial Gentleman's Choice exhibition, ca. late October 1986.
While members of the Woman's Building leadership saw their moves toward the mainstream in the 1980s as necessary for the survival of the institution, not everyone agreed. In 1986, the Building organized an exhibition entitled Gentleman's Choice in which organizers invited prominent men of the art world to select their favorite feminist artist for exhibition at the Woman's Building. Below is a letter protesting the exhibition from Marilyn Gottschall, director of the Women's Resource Center at California State University, Long Beach, addressed to her colleague Sondra Hale, a member of the women's studies faculty at Long Beach, who served on the board of the Woman's Building. Hale, who also objected to the exhibition, passed the letter to the director of the Woman's Building with a handwritten note attached that stated "this is one of many (all others have been verbal). I would like us to pass this around at the next board meeting." See Document 21B for a response to this letter from the Woman's Building. The spelling error, "Women's Building," repeated in this letter appeared in the original.
Women's Resource Center
California State University
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
Long Beach, California, 90840
Dr. Sondra Hale
Board of Directors
The Woman's Building
1727 No. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
I am writing to you in your capacity as a Director at the Women's Building to express my sentiments about the current exhibit "Gentleman's Choice." I have not seen the exhibit so I am writing neither to praise nor to criticize it, but rather to express my shock at the inappropriateness of both the title and the concept of the exhibit.
The Women's Building is one of the few places, certainly the only place in the local art world, where women's art and voices are defined, expressed and supported by women. We already know what "gentlemen" think about women because we live in a man's world. I am dismayed that the Women's Building, of all places, turns to expert males to comment upon and define women's art. It is particularly offensive given the historic obliteration of women from the male dominated art world. This exhibit seems a flagrant betrayal of the energy, commitment and heart that so many women have given over the past decade to the Women's Building.
To add insult to injury, the elitist title "Gentlemen's Choice" smacks of the traditional class distinctions and exclusivity within the art world. It is this very exclusivity that creates a need for alternative institutions like the Women's Building.
I am puzzled by this exhibit. I trust that it does not signify that the Women's Building is losing sight of its feminist origins and purpose. The Women's Building is an important institution to women; it must not be allowed to shift focus away from woman-defined art and creation.
I know I can count on you, Sondra, to convey my feelings in a most positive way to the women who make policy decisions at the Women's Building.
Women's Resource Center
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