‘Beauty and the Blonde’ exhibit opens with discussion featuring noted artist, author

Pioneering performance artist Lynn Hershman Leeson and feminist scholar Maria Elena Buszek will join Catharina Manchanda, Ph.D., curator for the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, for a panel discussion at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, before the opening of “Beauty and the Blonde: An Exploration of American Art and Popular Culture.”

“Constructing Roberta Breitmore” (1975), by Lynn Hershman Leeson, depicts the pioneering performance artist in the guise of Breitmore, her fictional alter ego.

Curated by Manchanda and featuring works by Leeson, “Beauty and the Blonde” is the first museum show to investigate the strategic use of the blonde in contemporary art.

The discussion will take place in Steinberg Auditorium in Steinberg Hall. A public reception will immediately follow at 7 p.m. in the Kemper Art Museum adjacent to Steinberg.

Leeson, professor of art at the University of California, Davis, has been featured in more than 200 exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world. Between 1971-78, she created the groundbreaking work “Roberta Breitmore,” an extended performance piece based on the artist’s fictional alter ego.

“Many people assumed I was Roberta,” Leeson noted on her Web site. “Although I denied it at the time and insisted that she was ‘her own woman’ with defined needs, ambitions and instincts, in retrospect we were linked. Roberta represented part of me as surely as we all have within us an underside; a dark, shadowy anaemias cadaver that is the gnawing decay of our bodies.”

Leeson also has produced more than 50 major video works. In 1997, she released her first feature film, “Conceiving Ada,” followed by “Teknolust” in 2002. Her most recent film, the docu-drama “Strange Culture,” tells the story of Steve Kurtz, an internationally acclaimed artist who was detained as a “bioterrorist” by the FBI.

“Strange Culture” will be screened at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, in Steinberg Auditorium as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival. Leeson will attend the screening and will receive the festival’s Women in Film Award.

Buszek, an assistant professor of art history at the Kansas City Art Institute, is the author of “Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture” (2006). Beginning with the genre’s origins in mid-19th-century carte-de-visite photographs of burlesque performers, “Pin-up Grrrls” explores the development and evolution of the pin-up over the last 150 years, as well as its intimate connections with the history of feminism.

“Buszek isn’t afraid to dig deep into her subject, but she tempers her treatise with healthy doses of wit, grace and rhythm,” noted Publisher’s Weekly.

Both the talk and reception are free and open to the public. “Beauty and the Blonde” will remain on view through Jan. 28. Regular hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays.

For more information, call 935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.