Legal Gender: the Irreverent Art of Anita Steckel

April 13 - May 12

opening reception: Saturday, April 13, 6-9pm

artist talk: Curator's Talk and Gallery Tour, Wednesday, May 8, 6pm

Legal Gender: The Irreverent Art of Anita Steckel spans five decades and highlights the provocative work of artist Anita Steckel (b. 1930 d. 2012). Steckel, an underrecognized artist who was part of the early feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, made important contributions to the understanding of the female gaze and furthering the role of women in art. Steckel was founder of the Fight Censorship group, organized in response to the proposed closing of her solo exhibition The Sexual Politics of Feminist Art at Rockland Community College in 1972 which featured work with erotic imagery. Members included Lousie Bourgeois, Hannah Wilke, and Joan Semmel among others and the women’s collective was instrumental in reshaping the debate surrounding erotic subject matter within the context of sexual and creative freedom.

Steckel’s use of collage and appropriation as a feminist strategy countered the dominant male narratives endemic to the art world and society at large. Beginning with her Mom Art series made in the early 1960s, the gendered title a conscious wordplay on the more recognized Pop Art, to her final series of reworked family photographs that cast a spotlight on her own personal story, Steckel’s art is a series of carefully targeted confrontations. Art history, political and historical figures, and the patriarchal domain of the city are appropriated into reconfigured narratives and pointed critiques. Steckel also explored female sexuality and the representation of the male phallus in her work. At times she presents her female nudes as erotic or nurturing while the phallus embodies both female desire and male authority. In her deft combinations of photomontage, collage, drawing, and painting, Steckel proposes a broader discussion of female sexuality, feminism, gender parity, racial injustice, and political reckoning. In the artist’s own words: “Good taste is the enemy of art. It’s wonderful for curtains, but in art, it’s suffocating.”

Anita Steckel was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1930. She began her art education at the High School of Music and Art in New York and continued her studies at Cooper Union, Alfred University, and the Arts Student League of New York, the latter at which she taught for many years. She had her first solo exhibition at the Hacker Gallery, New York in 1961 and throughout her career her art was regularly shown in museum, gallery and university exhibitions. Solo exhibitions in New York City included Kozmopolitan Gallery 1969, 10th Street Gallery 1972, Westbeth Gallery 1972 and 1973, Hansen Gallery 1977, Razor Gallery 1979, Underground Gallery 1989, and Mitchell Algus Gallery 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009. She received the National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Grant in 1983 and the Pollock- Krasner Foundation Grant in 2005. She died in New York at age 82.

Legal Gender: The Irreverent Art of Anita Steckel is organized by the Jacki Headley University Art Gallery, CSU Chico & The Estate of Anita Steckel and curated by Kelly Lindner and Rachel Middleman. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with essays by Richard Meyer, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Art History, Stanford University, and Rachel Middleman, Associate Professor of Art History, California State University, Chico.