A Podcast on Radical Women Unearths Rare Interviews With Alice Neel, Betye Saar, and More

Helen Frankenthaler in her East 83rd Street and Third Avenue studio, New York, April 1964 (© J. Paul Getty Trust)

By, Alissa Guzman January 27, 2020

This season of the Recording Artists podcast, hosted by Helen Molesworth, explores what it has meant to be a woman and artist through the lives of six iconic artists.

As the women’s march headed into its forth year this month and recent exhibitions like Abortion Is Normal seize the zeitgeist of our current political moment, a chorus of female voices seems to be setting a defiant note for 2020. A new podcast produced by the Getty gives us the chance to listen to six iconic female artists from the 20th century: Alice Neel, Lee Krasner, Betye Saar, Helen Frankenthaler, Yoko Ono, and Eva Hesse. But as the episodes of the podcast, titled Recording Artists: Radical Women, progress, we quickly recognize a common thread of struggle in the stories of these artists.

Each of the artists featured in the podcast, hosted by the historian and curator Helen Molesworth, holds a significant yet disparate role in the history of contemporary art. Though the podcast struggles with the fact that many of these women are remembered in part because of the men they dated or married — a roster that includes Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Clement Greenberg, John Lennon, and Tom Doyle — the narrative of individual choice found in Radical Women contributes to its relatability today. Every feminist wave has been forced to confront the myriad of social restraints, requirements, and contradictions inherent in definitions of autonomy.

Even today, it remains extremely difficult for women to tell their own stories, and Radical Women is so compelling because much of its narrative comes from rare interviews with the artists themselves. For the podcast, Molesworth delved into the archives of the Getty Research Institute to highlight and curate a series of artist conversations recorded in the 1960s and ’70s with historians Cindy Nemser and Barbara Rose. These interviews reflect a time when art and the country itself were in a state of flux, caught between the new feminist wave and an art world too comfortable devaluing female artists. The podcast is part revelation for the remarkable insight it provides, and part affirmation, as these six women recount all too familiar experiences as female artists.

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