“You always want to be seen. So that you don’t disappear.”
Jenny Mushkin Goldman has the phenomenal ability to describe a scenario in dazzling detail and then distill those points down to the perfect phrase. Though I’ve known her since high school she still bowls me over with her ability to see the entire picture in one eye while highlighting esoteric parts with the other. I recently spoke with her about womanhood, Hillary Clinton, and her show “Beyond Secretary” which runs through December 4th, 2016 at Mark Borghi Fine Art. Excerpts from our conversation appear below.
Hillary Clinton inspired both shows; this idea of male political commentators telling her to smile and thinking about what it’s like to be a woman in New York City getting harassed.
That dialogue grew into this. I was toying around with the idea of The Divine Feminine in relation to what it’s like to be a career woman and a new mother, especially after finding how difficult it is firsthand. The most amazing thing that happens in the world is the creation of life but women who are actually doing this are not supported in our society. We’re supposed to go off to the corner, take care of the babies, and keep it out of the work force- keep it out of society. Just look at the controversy over something so simple and natural as breastfeeding in public.
I went back to work after three weeks so I definitely felt this on a personal level. It’s like, if you want to be a successful woman you have to pretend that those sides of you - the strengths of mothering and creating life - don’t exist. In general, women are taught that they’re supposed to act like men if they want to succeed. All women have to deal with this: don’t be emotional; don’t cry; you’re being too sensitive. They’re considered weaknesses but it’s only a weakness if it’s seen through a masculine lens, which is how our whole society is driven.
But then there are the archetypes of The Divine Feminine: The Queen; The Mother Figure; The Priestess; The Lover; The Warrioress; The Wise Women. I thought of bringing together a show where we exhibit strengths through these archetypes. It evolved into “Beyond Secretary” because it was about the election: here’s The Divine Feminine coming into power as symbolized through Hillary Clinton’s nomination and potential election to President. That was the hope. And it wasn’t only that she was beyond Secretary of State at that point, it was also that women were going beyond subservience to men; beyond being someone’s secretary.
Who are the artists in the show?
They’re all amazing. Included in the show is the incomparable Betty Tompkins - who was also in “Smile” – with “Cunt Painting Number 9”, this beautiful black and white painting that reminded me of Gustave Courbet’s “Origin of The World”. It’s both the lover and the mother; it’s the origin. There’s Hyon Gyon’s “Mother”; it’s this long horizontal piece that’s passionate, chaotic, and very spiritual. Rebecca Goyette is featured with her intriguing and humorous “bride” sculptures. Rachel Debuque made these really interesting and beautiful small sculptures specifically for the exhibition that makes up her work “Slumber Party.” Grace Johnson’s three fantastic paintings explore the almost spiritual obsession with fitness and healthy living nowadays. There’s Tammy Smith, whose paintings are so raw and powerful. Livia Mourao is showing for the first time her dynamic abstract painting. We have Mie Yim who has these amazing food paintings that represent different aspects of anatomy of The Divine Feminine: the rib of Adam as The Companion to Man; figs for wisdom and compassion; milk for fertility and nurturing of children. Oysters- obviously an aphrodisiac and very evocative of the female anatomy.
I love how mythologically inspired that is; “The Birth of Venus”.
Venus and the conch shell! Absolutely. Then, of course, we have that amazing Sarah Sole piece with Hillary Clinton as Tarzan. When I saw that I was like, “She’s holding Jane but that’s not just Jane; that’s all of us.”
What do you think people get from the show?
This is coming more after the election: a safe haven and a place of solidarity. It sounds corny but there is a definite sense of sisterhood; encouraging and empowering for women. There are absolutely men who have come to visit-. One thing to point out about The Divine Feminine is that a person doesn’t have to be born biologically female to possess it. Every person has both The Divine Feminine and The Divine Masculine within them and it’s important to never allow either to get out of whack.
What I love about “Beyond Secretary” is that it isn’t coming from a place of “we hate men” feminism.
Yes. I would say that I’m a newly minted feminist in the last couple of years. I never even use that term because a lot of people in our generation thought feminism was a moot point. I didn’t realize how sexism affected me until I was a little older. When you’re younger, gender roles can work to a woman’s benefit; when things are only working to your benefit you may not see the harm being done. But there’s a build up and finally your eyes open and you’re like, “Holy Shit. This is not good.”
I get asked sometimes if these shows are anti-male, to which I answer a definite “No”. Sure, there are plenty of toxic males but I don’t want to give them a platform. This is not about them. You know what it is? It’s respecting and honoring everyone in a family dynamic; everybody deserves the same amount of respect and attention. Sometimes that means focusing on one person but for too long the focus has been disproportionally on men. Women artists in particular need a platform right now. Like, just because you need to focus on your mom, because your mom needs it more at the moment, doesn’t mean that your dad is any less important or that you love him less. That’s what Beyond Secretary is. It’s giving attention and respect to woman without being anti-male. It’s about a woman’s relationship with herself. It’s about understanding and appreciating yourself; being kind to yourself and not tearing other people down.
That’s something the show has done for me: helped me to speak to my students, who can be what I consider wimps, in a way that isn’t about yelling “WHY AREN’T YOU MORE CONFIDENT?!!” at them. After seeing the show I started to realize there is probably a better way for me to connect with them other than dragging them across the finish line. I say it’s tough love but maybe it’s just me chasing people away from where they could be and from where I certainly want them to be.
You got that out of the show?
Oh yeah. It’s only been these last two weeks that I’ve finally able to leave class without having made someone cry.
Wow. That’s an honor and very humbling.
It’s what you do as a curator, Jenny. I could bring my gruff father to the show and he would be able to see his mother, who he loved deeply, in it.
That’s the hope; that you’re introducing something new to people or making them think of themselves or their loved ones in a different way. Like, “Maybe I didn’t give mom enough credit.” Maybe I-
Yeah. Like, my mom- it’s so easy for me to dismiss her because she’s so selfless. It’s amazing that the first person I’m willing to take for granted is the person who loves me the most. So it was very powerful for me to have her at the opening because we were celebrating her strengths.
It’s clear that Jenny is speaking about all mothers here. Maybe that’s what “Beyond Secretary” taps into: the sacrifices of our mothers.
If you could curate a show with any group of artists, what would that show look like?
That’s a tough question! I’d love to work with Marilyn Minter; I love that kind of expression of sexuality, love the glitz with the punk-like, hard edge. I really like Rachel Lee Hovnanian, she’s represented at Leila Heller Gallery. Her work has a lot of multimedia and technology in it; it’s very stylized. I love video art and technology; delving into that world would be interesting for me.
I look forward to seeing the next Jenny Mushkin Goldman technological show!
“Beyond Secretary” continues at Mark Borghi Fine Art through Sunday, December 4th, 2016.
“Beyond Secretary”, presented by Mark Borghi Fine Art and Keyes Art Consulting.
Mark Borghi Fine Art at 52 East 76th Street between Park & Madison.
Curated by Jenny Mushkin Goldman