In the mid-1980s, a group of women artists and activists donned Gorilla masks and marched in front of museums and galleries in New York City, protesting the vastly unequal representation of men and women artists in these institutions. They called themselves the Guerrilla Girls and with their confrontational activism, they jumpstarted a process of self-examination and re-visioning of history in the art world, a rediscovery of passed-over and sidelined women artists throughout history, as well as shining the spotlight on the importance and relevance of the work of contemporary women artists. Thirty-five years later, we have still not achieved equal representation or income parity in the visual arts, but much progress has been made, and Great Women Artists (Phaidon, $59.95) is a celebration of this exciting paradigm shift. Included in the book are images of the work of 400 women artists from the past 500 years, along with a paragraph on the history and significance of each one (there is a page on the Guerrilla Girls). These images show the pioneering diversity of art made by women, and prove decisively that women make art which transcends the supposed limitation of femaleness, and that—as the strikethrough in the title suggests— Great Women Artists are simply Great Artists.
The publication of J.D. Vance’s memoir could not have been more timely. In his account of growing up in a so-called hillbilly family, Vance offers a deeply personal, loving but clear-eyed view of his people, poor whites of Scots-Irish descent, endangered not only by economic forces beyond their control, but by their own fierce insularity and resistance to outside influences. Vance writes of his grandparents’ relocation from Kentucky in a wave of migration north to find work in the steel mills of Ohio, and the family’s subsequent struggle to hold on to middle class stability amid the decline following the closure of those same steel mills. Vance also gives us indelible portraits of family members: a mother struggling with addiction, an absent father’s strict adherence to conservative Christianity, and, most movingly, of his grandmother, known as “Mamaw,” an awesome, gun-owning matriarch who provided the only real stability he knew. Hillbilly Elegy is an engrossing, readable memoir, as well as a necessary perspective on the failure of the promise of American prosperity.
The year is 1926, and the students at St. Stephen’s Academy, a boys’ boarding school in the north of England, are subject to the many cruelties of the English Public School system of the time: caning, the “fag” system, whereby younger boys serve older ones and suffer their abuse, and rugby. But before you think victimization à la David Copperfield, meet seventeen-year-old Morgan Wilberforce, the protagonist of H.S. Cross’s excellent debut novel, Wilberforce (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27). Though he mourns the recent death of his mother, suffers abuse from his “fagmaster,” has unrequited yearnings for a boy a year ahead of him, and earns the dislike and suspicion of the headmaster and many of his teachers, Morgan gives as good as he gets. When we meet him, he has injured his shoulder by hurling himself at Spaulding, the object of his affections, during a rugby match, and the drama builds from there. The school is in turmoil following a rebellion of the younger boys, and even the Masters struggle to keep their own emotions at bay while trying to maintain control of the school. In Wilberforce, H.S. Cross has created a world in which the raw pain and pleasure of adolescence combine to heightened, highly charged, and sometimes hilarious effect.