Soho Women Artists 1978

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978; Museum Purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund; © May Stevens; Courtesy Mary Ryan Gallery, New York

Directly involved with the 1970s feminist art movement in New York, May Stevens created this contemporary version of an academic history painting.

Traditional western history paintings present scenes from classical or Christian history and typically exclude female figures. Soho Women Artists is part of a series of historically-styled works that Stevens created to recognize women artists and call for the inclusion of women in art history, a cause catalyzed by the provocative 1971 ArtNews article entitled, “Why have there been no great women artists?” 

Stevens’s painting highlights her devotion to the collective work of the Heresies activist group that she helped found as well as her preference for narratives that resonate with her personally. “The stories are anecdotes about events. And they’re selected because they mean something to me,” she notes.

Stevens composed this work from photographs of friends who helped shape the feminist art revolution from their New York City neighborhood. Arranged in a frieze-like composition are (left to right): Signora d’Apolito, owner of a bakery; two men from SoHo’s Italian-American community; May Stevens; fellow Heresies artists Harmony Hammond, Joyce Kozloff (sitting with her son Nikolas), and Marty Pottenger; artist Louise Bourgeois, in one of her wearable sculptures; artist Miriam Schapiro and critic Lucy Lippard, also Heresies members; and artist Sarah Charlesworth.