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The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991

On View: January 21, 2012 - April 15, 2012
February 22, 2018 @ 6:00PM – 7:00PM
Brown Foundation Gallery
The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991 @ Brown Foundation Gallery

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is pleased to present The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991, a survey of leading women artists that examines the crucial feminist contribution to the development of deconstructivism in the 1970s and ’80s. As the term suggests, deconstructivism involved taking apart and examining source material, generally borrowed from the mass media, to expose the ways commercial images reveal the mechanisms of power. Women had a particularly high stake in this kind of examination and were disproportionately represented among artists who practiced it. This exhibition is organized by Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York.

The exhibition includes 68 photographs, prints, paintings, videos, and installations by 22 artists and one artists’ collaborative. The artists include: Judith Barry, Dara Birnbaum, Barbara Bloom, Sarah Charlesworth, the Guerrilla Girls, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Susan Hiller, Jenny Holzer, Deborah Kass, Mary Kelly, Silvia Kolbowski, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Sturtevant, Carrie Mae Weems, and Hannah Wilke.

The mid-1970s saw the emergence of a potent artistic impulse to deconstruct the operations of cultural power, an impulse that is often understood, erroneously, to have been gender blind. The prevailing belief has been that following the identity-based, essentialist work of the late 1960s and early 1970s, progressive women artists put aside their differences with men to help them reveal how the mass media and global capitalism control visual culture. Their work was understood to suggest that authenticity and individuality were obsolete fictions, unsustainable in a media-saturated culture in which advertising, television, and the movies shape visual expression far more powerfully than individual agency. Sexual politics were seen to have submitted to a gender-free critique.

Hindsight helps reveal that this scenario is deeply flawed. Not only was the deconstructive impulse propelled in significant measure by women, but it reflected specifically female and highly individualized experiences of power—and constraint. The blatant misogyny of the movie and advertising industries, and the sexism of other cultural institutions and social structures, were significant motivators for launching attacks against them through such strategies as appropriation, simulation, masquerade, and pastiche. A chorus of varied voices—of decidedly plural feminisms—rose up, from a wide variety of racial, economic, and cultural communities. In fact the deconstructive impulse helped reveal that gender identity and its representation were more complicated than generally had been recognized.


The Deconstructive Impulse is accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 176-page, hardcover book that surveys the work of the artists included, and places them in cultural and historical context. Essays by the exhibition’s curators, Helaine Posner and Nancy Princenthal, are followed by texts by art historians Tom McDonough, Griselda Pollock, and Kristine Stiles discussing such topics asthe importance of critical theory and sexual politics in the art world of the 1980s; how domesticity is represented in commercial media and the art that addresses it; the importance of psychoanalytic theory as a critical framework; and the sexualization of inanimate objects. The catalogue is co-published by the Neuberger Museum of Art and DelMonico Books•Prestel.


The Deconstructive Impulse is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C. and the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art.

Exhibitions in the Brown Foundation Gallery at CAMH have been made possible by the patrons, benefactors and donors to the Museum’s Major Exhibition Fund: Major Patron – Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Fayez Sarofim, and Michael Zilkha. Patrons -Louise D. Jamail, Mr. and Mrs. I. H. Kempner III, Ms. Louisa Stude Sarofim, and Leigh and Reggie Smith. Benefactors – Baker Botts L.L.P. / Anne and David Kirkland, George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation, Jackson Hicks / Jackson and Company, Marley Lott, Beverly and Howard Robinson, Andrew Schirrmeister III, Susan Vaughan Foundation, Inc., and Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Wilson. Donors -A Fare Extraordinaire, Anonymous, Bank of Texas, Bergner and Johnson Design, The Brown Foundation, Inc., Jereann Chaney, Susie and Sanford Criner, Elizabeth Howard Crowell, Dillon Kyle Architecture, Sara Dodd-Spickelmier and Keith Spickelmier, Ruth Dreessen and Thomas Van Laan, Marita and J.B. Fairbanks, Jo and Jim Furr, Barbara and Michael Gamson, Brenda and William Goldberg / Bernstein Global Wealth Management, King & Spalding L.L.P., KPMG, LLP, Judy and Scott Nyquist, Belinda Phelps and Randy Howard, David I. Saperstein, Scurlock Foundation, and Karen and Harry Susman.

Education Support

The Museum receives support for its education programs from: Anonymous, Baker Hughes Foundation, Louise D. Jamail, John P. McGovern Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. I.H. Kempner III, Kinder Morgan Foundation, Leticia Loya, Andrew R. McFarland, M.D. Anderson Foundation, Marian and Speros Martel Foundation Endowment, Mrs. Louisa Stude Sarofim, Martha Claire Tompkins, and 20K Group, LLC.

Teen Council is supported by Mrs. Louisa Stude Sarofim with additional support from Baker Hughes Foundation.

General Support

Funding for the Museum’s operations through the Fund for the Future is made possible by generous grants from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Anonymous, Elizabeth Howard Crowell, Barbara and Michael Gamson, Brenda and William Goldberg, Mr. and Mrs. I.H. Kempner III, Leticia Loya and Fayez Sarofim.

CAMH’s operations and programs are made possible through the generosity of the Museum’s trustees, patrons, members, and donors. CAMH receives partial operating support from the Houston Endowment, the City of Houston through the Houston Museum District Association, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and The Wortham Foundation, Inc.

United is the official airline of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.