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As part of its ongoing project to re-centre art’s neglected histories, Munich’s global centre for contemporary art, Haus der Kunst, is exhibiting the fundamental role of women in the history of immersive art known as environments. Marking the intersection of art, architecture and design, while emphasising the role of the audience, these artworks played a crucial role in the development of visual art, yet this developmental narrative has focused almost exclusively on the works of male artists. Inside Other Spaces: Environments by Women Artists 1956-1976 rejects this narrative by spotlighting the iconic works of twelve female environment artists.

“Give the experimental nature of environments – most of them destroyed right after their display – their art historiography is characterised by a sense of loss,” tells Andrea Lissoni, Artistic Director of Haus der Kunst. “Therefore, the erasure of the fundamental contribution of women is a double loss.” By challenging the almost complete erasure of women from this art form, Inside Other Spaces poses necessary questions about the authorship of art history and the privileging of some, primarily male-centred, histories over others. As we begin to re-address the givenness of patriarchal structures more generally – structures sustained by male-authored histories – these questions could not be more relevant. We can’t change the present without re-addressing the past. Thus, as Lissoni notes, “the reconstruction of these historical and to-be-historicised environments as close to their original condition as possible aims to bridge the gap between then and now and let the works of women artists come to the fore.”

The product of a three-year research process involving an archival deep dive of photographs, architectural plans, reviews, materials lists and providers’ invoices, the exhibition has re-created these works to grant them the space and audience they were denied throughout art history. From the soft femininity of Judy Chicago’s Feather Room (1965) to the anxiety-inducing heat and blinding light of Tania Mouraud’s We Used to Know (1967), the collection refuses to reduce works to any one style or necessarily ‘feminine’ theme. The assured curation which overtly conveys the vast uniqueness of each piece, is an asset owing to the eyes of Marina Pugliese and Andrea Lissoni, with Anne Pfautsch.

Not only does the exhibition extend the history of environments beyond the man, but the artists included span three generations from Asia, Europe as well as North and South America. The diversity of artworks and artists facilitates a multi-layered discussion throughout the exhibition that touches on themes from feminism and psychoanalysis – as in Lea Lublin’s Phallus Mobilis – to the harmony between people, technology and nature – as in Aleksandra Kasuba’s Spectral Passage.

Aligning the past and the present, Inside Other Spaces appears in dialogue with the futuristic world of American artist WangShui, who extends the modern environment by the inclusion of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The work questions how humans will appear and communicate in a technologically supported future. The exhibition was also be accompanied by a symposium in collaboration with Getty Research Institute this past Saturday. The talk considered new forms of exhibition-making and new approaches to conservation and transmission, before the premiering of a live electronic music composition by Tania Mourad inspired by family history and the history of Haus der Kunst itself.
The exhibition runs until 10 March 2024 at Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Evie Glen
Cover image
Judy Chicago, Feather Room (ca. 1965). Feathers and inflated plastic. Collaboration with Lloyd Hamrol and Eric Orr. Judy Chicago in the Feather Room at Rolf Nelson Gallery, Los Angeles, CA © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives

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