As seen in issue 56 of Closer Magazine, published on 2009-03-27 in the "LocalArt" section.

Ars Femina
Girls Club puts art of “the second sex” first
By: Julie Kay

"They started buying art by women and realized that women are not well represented in major museums and art galleries.”

From the outside, the mysterious-looking green building buried deep in downtown Fort Lauderdale looks like an invitation-only private club. A tiny sign at the bottom of the door--"Girls' Club"--only furthers the exclusive aura, and what lies inside is, in fact, one of the South Florida art world’s best kept secrets: a collection of quality contemporary art made almost exclusively by women.

But Girls' Club is not just for the viewing of art--although it is a first rate gallery space, with high ceilings, mod orange-painted stairway and warehouse feel. Through partnerships with Women in Distress, the Pace Center for Girls and the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center, among others, Girls' Club holds workshops for women on all manner of expression--digital imaging, multimedia, even blogging.

"The workshops are meant to build self-esteem and offer new skill sets to and mentor women who are transitioning," explains Girls' Club creative director Michelle Weinberg.

The alternative space was opened in 2006 by local collectors and philanthropists Francie Bishop Good (herself a photographer and multimedia artist) and David Horvitz, in order to showcase local, national and international art by women, as well as to provide art education for troubled women.

"Francie and David have over the years collected some amazing works of art," says Weinberg. "They've really contributed to the growth of the arts here."

The couple’s decision to focus on art by women "happened organically,” Weinberg says. "They started buying art by women and realized that women are not well represented in major museums and art galleries. I mean, we're the only one in the whole world devoted to showcasing contemporary female artists."

The Girls' Club's current exhibit–“Under the Influence”--features some 60 pieces, most from the founders' collection, in media including painting, video, craft, photography and sculpture. The space may be small but it shows off the works beautifully, a plaintive melody from a Japanese video-art mix upstairs mixing with psychedelic rock downstairs to create a peaceful ambiance.

Weinberg explains the thinking behind the show, which she and Good co-curated with art consultant Jane Hart, curator of exhibitions at Hollywood’s Art and Culture Center, where an adjunct of the show was on display through last January.
"It just seemed that a current trend in art making is social networking, collaborative projects and the use of non-art materials, playing with or tinkering with the ultra importance of art," she says. "That seemed to have roots in feminist art from the ‘70s. We wanted to show influence from one generation to another as well as colleagues sharing information and techniques. The art world wasn't always about that, it was about the male artist working in isolation."

The Japanese piece is perhaps the most evocative of the collection. Miko No Inori, artist Mariko Mori's hypnotic, five-minute stream of image and sound, shows the silver-haired artist in a silver vinyl bodysuit sporting shiny polyethylene pillow wings, cradling, rolling and kissing a crystal ball. In the background, people mingle at the Kansai Airport, outside Osaka. With a soundtrack featuring a haunting song of Mori’s composition, the piece marries the mundane and the otherwordly.
Also upstairs, a video by Teresa Diehl entitled Vuela, envelopes the viewer in a slowed-down, fragmented bird in flight, wings flapping.

The show's sculptures includes Carpet Study, by Kerry Phillips, which resembles a kaleidoscope of colorful samples from a textile store, and an enormous, dramatic hanging structure (untitled) of mud, plaster, wax, and blue and red feathers, by Petah Coyne, that evokes a bloody bluebird nest.

E.V. Day's humorous and thought-provoking Mummified Barbies pokes holes in female stereotypes. The dolls are stuck on the wall, enveloped in cocoons, only their eyes showing (a nod to the traditional Islamic burkha, perhaps?).

Cristina Lei-Rodriguez, a young Miami artist who is gaining a national reputation, is represented by one of her distinctive and kitschy works—an untitled profusion of red and orange flowers exploding off the wall and bathed in glittery resin.
Alison Elizabeth Taylor, a former indie comix artist known for creating pictures out of delicately arranged wood chips, works in the intricate craft of marquetry (a technique that utilizes polymer and inlaid wood veneer ). Her piece, Redrock, depicts a trio of figures marooned in a rugged landscape of tension and alienation.

Diane Arrieta's comic I'm Loving It, is one of a series of 20 illustrations of overweight girls printed on cheeseburger wrappers—a statement on fast food culture and childhood obesity. This piece shows the subject from behind, the better to view her tattoo and whale tail.

Some of the most provocative work on display is by co-curator Hart, working under the pseudonym TJ Ahearn. Her collage images of half-naked vixens--interspersed with birds, flowers and guns--illustrate women's relationship to consumerism, violence and the erotic.

Also in the show is a piece by the late Elizabeth Murray, who, until her death in 2007, served as a role model for countless contemporary female artists. Her Rosy Glow, made of pastel, charcoal and ink on folded and collaged paper, features her blunt, cartoonish images. The organic form—womb-like, with a star at its center—could serve as an emblem for the spirit of Girls’ Club.

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Girls' Club is located at 117 NE Second St., Fort Lauderdale. It is open to the public Wednesdays from 1 to 5 p.m. and other times by appointment.

“Under the Influence” is on display through September 30.
A selection of works from the collection of Good and Horvitz is on display at Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Art beginning April 19.

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1, The Cultivated Forest
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