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Nancy Buchanan

American, b. 1946


Gelatin silver prints and ink
16.5 x 32.25 in. (41.91 x 81.915 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

In 1971 Nancy Buchanan and several other graduate students at the University of California, Irvine, founded the alternative art gallery F-Space in a rented industrial building in nearby Santa Ana. There the young artists exhibited their own work, and that of others, independent of outside professional control. Five years later Buchanan’s Wolfwoman appeared in the pages of Paul McCarthy’s self-published magazine Criss Cross Double Cross. The practice of sidestepping the established system of art galleries, museums, and publications in favor of homemade institutions has come to be seen as a defining feature of the period, blurring the distinction between an artwork and its conditions of possibility.

Wolfwoman comprises two black-and-white photographic prints and a single text panel. In one photograph Buchanan stares impassively into the camera. In the other she growls menacingly, made up as a werewolf. In Buchanan’s version of this mythical character from popular culture, the monster is recast as female, the transformation is correlated with her menstruation, the art opening is her nighttime hunting ground, and her prey is a generic smug male artist whose “first one-man show” is destined to be “his last.”

“Night equals danger” is the way a feminist author of the period characterized the very real threat of sexual violence. Moreover, the male-dominated art world in Los Angeles made little room for women artists like Buchanan. But instead of the usual dialectic of critique, Wolfwoman imagines a world turned upside down, where “poor male artists no longer dared to walk the streets alone,” so fearful that they leave the art opening “huddled together in large groups for mutual protection.” Though correctly identified as a feminist work—and a pointedly polemical one at that—Buchanan’s revenge fantasy slyly trades grievance for humor in an exchange that quickly wins attention and assent.

Tom Jimmerson

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