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A women's world of art

Former academic opens Laguna gallery specializing in art by women to explore the concept of gender.

February 02, 2012|By Cindy Frazier
  • Lisa Aslanian opened the new George Gallery to showcase art by women to explore gender.
Lisa Aslanian opened the new George Gallery to showcase… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Former New Yorker Lisa Aslanian spent 20 years in academia, studying, lecturing on and admiring contemporary art by women until deciding to embark on a new journey by opening The George Gallery in Laguna Beach.

The gallery — the only one in the city devoted solely to the work of female artists — held its grand opening last week.

Aslanian does not think that women are under-represented in galleries; nor is her gallery filled with strident feminist "message" art. The gallery's women-only concept is simple but also subtle: What makes art by women different from that of men?

One of the seven artists in the opening show, "Accomplished," uses a childlike motif of braids in her work. What Talin Megherian is expressing, according to Aslanian, is a distinct feminine identity, particularly in the artist's Armenian culture, where women commonly wear braids.

"I am not a first-generation feminist," Aslanian said, referring to the early women's movement and its emphasis on boldly confronting gender issues. "Women can want equality but not want to be men."

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Aslanian named the gallery after the French novelist George Sand, a woman who wrote under a masculine pseudonym. Sand also defied gender restrictions in her personal life, dressing as a man and declining to marry her partner, Frederick Chopin.

Aslanian said that gender issues have fascinated her since she studied for and earned her doctorate in art philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. Studies in homoeroticism particularly fascinated her, she said.

"There's no pedantic polemic behind it [the gallery], but our experience is always gendered," she said. "If a woman is an artist does it betray that in her art?"

On her website, Aslanian declares: "The George Gallery represents women artists who create within a wide range: Some boldly portray aggressive sexuality and parodies of domesticity while others deliver art that is, like Ms. Sand's, uncannily and ironically gender neutral."

In her studies, she noticed that few women joined the ranks of professional artists until the 1950s and '60s, with the explosion of political — and feminist — art.

Aslanian does think that women's art tends to be marginalized as "crafts" when it strays beyond paint and canvas. And there are equity issues.

"Women are well-represented in the arts but does their work fetch as much money as [work by] men?" she asks.

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