The Female Closet

A film by Barbara Hammer

1998 | 60 minutes | Color | DVD | Order No. 99610


This fascinating film from renowned filmmaker Barbara Hammer combines rare footage, interviews, and rich visual documentation to survey the lives of variously closeted women artists from different segments of the 20th century: Victorian photographer Alice Austen, Weimar collagist Hannah Höch, and present day painter Nicole Eisenman. In a compelling examination of the art world’s treatment of lesbians, Hammer documents how the museum devoted to Austen ignores the implications of her crossdressing photos, how the Museum of Modern Art glossed over Höch’s sexuality in a major exhibit, and how Eisenman’s work based on patriarchal porn is described by critics as “liberating, fun, and over the top”. Examining the museum as closet, and the negotiation of visibility and secrecy in lesbian history, this thoughtful film is a provocative look at the relationship between art, life, and sexuality.


“…a superb lesson on the history of lesbian art, as it interrogates the relationship between “the closet” and lesbian artists over the last hundred years.”

Linda Lopez McAlister The Woman’s Show, WMNF-FM

“The material Hammer got her hands on is impressive and staggering…”

Lawrence Ferber The NY Blade

“Hammer’s new doc is an accomplished scissors-and-paste job, using talking heads, home movies, and archival photographs in it’s investigation of the lives, art, and sexual histories of three women artists.”

Elliot Stein Village Voice


  • Dallas Video Festival
  • Festival de Filmes de Femmes, Creteil
  • Assoc. of Women Journalists Award
  • National Media Education Festival, Bronze Apple Award
  • NY, SF, Toronto, and LA, Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals
  • Charlotte Film & Video Festival
  • Femme Totale, Dortmund, Germany
  • Athens International Film and Video Festival


Barbara Hammer

Barbara Hammer was born on May 15, 1939 in Hollywood, California. She is a visual artist working primarily in film and video. She has made over 80 moving image works in a career that spans 40 years. She is considered a pioneer of queer cinema.

In 2013 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a film WAKING UP TOGETHER on the poet Elizabeth Bishop. She was awarded the same year a Marie Walsh Sharpe artist studio to work on performance projection.

Her work is represented by the gallery Koch Oberhuber Woolfe in Berlin, Germany where her first solo exhibition ran from February 11-April 17, 2011 and her third exhibition of collages and drawings in fall 2014.

GENERATIONS, 2010 (made with Gina Carducci), and MAYA DEREN'S SINK, 2011, her two most recent films won the Teddy Award for Best Short Films at the 2011 Berlinale. Her experimental films of the 1970′s often dealt with taboo subjects such as menstruation, female orgasm and lesbian sexuality. In the 80′s she used optical printing to explore perception and the fragility of 16mm film life itself. OPTIC NERVE (1985) and ENDANGERED (1988) were selected for the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennials (’85,’89,’93). Her documentaries tell the stories of marginalized peoples who have been hidden from history and are often essay films that are multi-leveled and engage audiences viscerally and intellectually with the goal of activating them to make social change.

Hammer’s experimental documentary film on cancer and hope, A HORSE IS NOT A METAPHOR, premiered in June, 2008 at the 32nd Frameline International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in San Francisco and in February.

In March 2010 her book, "Hammer! Making Movies out of Sex and Life," published by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, was launched in a performance at the Elizabeth A.

Barbara Hammer lived and worked in New York City and Kerhonkson, New York. She passed away in March 2019. (3/19)


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