Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Anna C. Chave


Siona Wilson

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


cross-dressing, feminist art, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Robert Gober


Feminist art of the 1970s was groundbreaking in many regards and importantly impacted specific projects by three male artists: Paul McCarthy's performance Sailor's Meat (1975), Mike Kelley's installation Half a Man (1989) and Robert Gober's 1989 installation at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Despite the general absence of feminist artists as possible influences in the critical literature on these artists, feminist sources have been hidden in plain sight in regards to these works. These artists all take up the problematic of identity formation within the domestic sphere, which was made a legitimate area of inquiry in art by numerous feminist artists in the 1970s.

The artists under discussion responded to feminism at different points in its development from the 1970s to the mid 1980s, and so I trace the debates surrounding feminism relevant to the works under discussion during this period. Chapter One contextualizes McCarthy's performances of the 1970s with his male forebearers and feminist contemporaries and focuses on themes of personae and rituals. Chapter Two explores Kelley's referencing feminist art via the idiom of craft, both in terms of its implications for different expressions of masculinity, and for his deeply ambivalent relationship with feminism. Chapter Three proposes a connections between Gober and feminist art founded on the shared exploration of the ways subjectivity is constituted by the daily repetition of activities within the domestic sphere. In this regard, his work is discussed in relation to works by artists working in the 1970s as well as his contemporaries that highlight the psychic emanations of particular household objects, and conceptually, to those that demonstrate how the domestic environment socially conditions its subjects. I conclude the project by discussing how a younger generation of contemporary women artists have reinterpreted works by McCarthy, Kelley and Gober in ways in which they are able to recognize and recover strands leading back to feminism. The dissertation aims to demonstrate that the contributions of feminist art had a greater effect on the field of contemporary art than is often acknowledged.