Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s

Regular price $ 19.95

by Nancy Princethal

Thames & Hudson

7/6/2022, paperback

SKU: 9780500296844


One of the Best Art Books of 2019 -- The New York Times

A groundbreaking exploration of how women artists of the 1970s combined art and protest to make sexual violence visible, creating a new kind of art in the process, now in paperback.

The 1970s was a time of deep division and newfound freedoms. Galvanized by The Second Sex and The Feminine Mystique, the civil rights movement and the March on Washington, a new generation put their bodies on the line to protest injustice. Still, even in the heart of certain resistance movements, sexual violence against women had reached epidemic levels. Initially, it went largely unacknowledged. But some bold women artists and activists, including Yoko Ono, Ana Mendieta, Marina Abramovic, Adrian Piper, Suzanne Lacy, Nancy Spero, and Jenny Holzer, fired up by women's experiences and the climate of revolution, started a conversation about sexual violence that continues today. Some worked unannounced and unheralded, using the street as their theater. Others managed to draw support from the highest levels of municipal power. Along the way, they changed the course of art, pioneering a form that came to be called, simply, performance.

Award-winning author Nancy Princenthal takes on these enduring issues and weaves together a new history of performance, challenging us to reexamine the relationship between art and activism, and how we can apply the lessons of that turbulent era to today.


"Riveting... A potent study of feminist art and activism of the 1970s... Clearly grasping the scope and complexity of her subject, the author contextualizes the stumbles and stamina of feminism, addressing objectification and exploitation while focusing on artists' pivotal acts of defiance, which brought heightened awareness to taboo or underdiscussed topics... Paying attention to the groundbreaking work of artists giving voice to sexual violence, Princenthal plainly establishes art's significant contributions to social change movements." --"Kirkus Review"

"Throughout the art-historical record, sexual violence against women was a subject typically rendered by male artists for a male audience. Princenthal shows how that finally changed in the last quarter of the 20th century...women took an experience that had been artistically mined by men for millenniums..and found ways to convey it in their own terms... [She] takes a tangled history and weaves it into an elegant account." -- "The New York Times"

About the Author:

Nancy Princenthal is a New York-based writer. A former senior editor of Art in America, where she remains a contributing editor, she has also written for the New York Times, Parkett, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She is currently on the faculty of the MFA art writing program at the School of Visual Arts. Her previous book, Agnes Martin, won 2016 PEN/ Jacqueline Bograd Weld award for biography.