Art at the Pompidou “Frazzled by Feminism”

// 14 March 2009

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There’s a rather confusing write up over at the AFP correspondent news blog about the press conference announcing a major exhibition on women artists at the Pompidou museum in Paris.

Aside from the possible alarm bells one could get from Claire Rosemberg’s description of the exhibition as a “worthy PC event” and the fact she sees fit to include the fact she was late for the conference, there are pointers in the piece to suggest she might possibly dig the feminist vibe of it all. Firstly, she says she thought it would be an “interesting” news conference and that the stated plans for the exhibition “sounded good.” To her credit, she also seems to take a critical view of the fact that there were three men on the panel at the conference, each in charge of a key institution, in comparison to two women in apparently less powerful positions. (I’m not too sure about her description of those women as mere curators but I appreciate the point I think Rosemberg is making.)

The thing I find problematic is the subsequent framing of what sounds to me like a perfectly reasonable debate as some kind of jolly old farce where, overall, feminist causes come out looking like they’re somehow more trouble than they’re worth. True, Rosemberg does seem to be raising a (feminist?) eyebrow about the head of sponsor Yves Rocher saying the brand “never stereotypes women.” One could also say the same about her inclusion of one journalist’s comment that “it would be more appropriate to hold an exhibition where half the artists were women and the other half were men.” I just think that, by and large, what she highlights actually goes to show that some very pertinent questions were asked and that this makes the following conclusion positively disheartening:

And so it went, on and on, a great free-for-all funny feminist moment, with the men in the dock, quietly and with all due respect, saying: “but we are the first museum in the world ever to have done this”.

The expo, which involves the Pompidou showing works by women from its own modern and comtemporary collection, the biggest in Europe, starts May 27. There will probably be lots more lively debate between now and then which may see the PC institution regret its bid to do right by gender.

Ungrateful feminists eh? Spoiling it for everyone with their critiques. But, seriously, I’m struggling to fathom what Rosemberg’s point is. Does she see addressing feminist concerns as a matter of box-ticking or lip-service and that women ought to be happy to leave it at that? What exactly is wrong with appraising an apparent effort to address inequality in order to gauge its effectiveness? Isn’t that to be expected? Okay, so feminism could always do better in terms of noting and celebrating what it has achieved so far. I just find it odd that the debate and critique stemming from an institution taking a step in the right direction can be so easily dismissed as little more than some ridiculous spectacle.

This article was sourced from the Yahoo News page where, for a limited amount of time, you can find a discussion on positive discrimination in the comments about the piece.

Photo by ricardo.martins, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

Holly // Posted 15 March 2009 at 12:03 am

Why do people get so offended by the fact that there is still so much work to do when it comes to women, and now feminism, not only being taken seriously, but being treated with the respect and dignity that we deserve? There are so many people who have no problem critiquing the fact that we critique, but are not willing to have an open mind about the big picture.

Posie Rider // Posted 16 March 2009 at 2:03 am

I agree with you Holly- a woman’s work is never done! Yet you must admit women in this country are spoilt compared to our sisters in the east.

What we need to focus on is the exploration of agency to reach a clearer understanding of how we, as women, can change our society for the better to save the rest of the world.

Look into http://worldpulse.com/

which gives an international voice to our struggle.

Pip // Posted 19 March 2009 at 2:21 pm

To me, feminism has reached its greatest achievements in the disciplines of the arts, in particular literature and fine art.

I certainly expected to read a greater response to the worlds first purely feminist exhibition in the wonderful Pompidou in Paris. What a better location could there be for such an exhibition than the nation that has provided feminism with the rich pickings of arts made by women. I can see Simone de Bouvoir turning in her grave and waking to necromance the exhibition, joining hands with Louise Bourgeois and Magritte Duras.

I expect this to be a blockbuster exhibition that will attract women from all over Europe to see works which more often than not find themselves un-noticed, unseen, packed away in the recesses of a galleries underground archives. Many of these works will be on display and won’t be seen again for 50 or more years.

I say, feminists, go get some culture. Buy a ticket to Paris for the day and go and see some of the real successes of feminism first hand. There will never be another chance to see such an exhibition in your lifetime. So, put those prada heels on hold, and go to paris in your ugg boots.

Holly Combe // Posted 19 March 2009 at 4:13 pm

Sounds good, Pip!

Unfortunately, not all of us will be able to make it over to Paris and not all of us have the budget to do it in Uggs (let alone Prada) but, for those who do (in whatever shoes), it sounds like a great opportunity.

You don’t happen to work for the Pompidou, do you?

Pip // Posted 19 March 2009 at 9:25 pm

I wish I worked for the Pompidou!

The exhibition will be showing for an entire year, which is more than enough time to walk and row there. If you have enough energy after all the feministing…

I’m just thrilled that such a large and important venue is hosting what will be a definitive exhibition on the history of women show casing creative womens tallents on their own terms.

For me, feminism has mostly been about women coming into representation and showing their experiences to the world. Of course, women artists were rather poo pooed by their male counterparts because of the cliche that only men can have genius. Thankfully by the 1920’s most women artists were working away with their own agandas in mind. Women had been making art for centurys but many of them didn’t know that it was art until a curator hung it in a museum of art.

The art world is still an area where women in general are not self-represented enough. Women are possibly the number one object depicted in art and yet the works of women artists are not often shown in retrospective exhibitions as often as their male counterparts. But this will be a retrospective, the first of its kind and scale showing the history of female artists.

This will be an excellent opportunity to see some of the greatest feamale artists works in the flesh. And I’m not suprised that Paris rose to the occasion before London, New York, Chicago, Amsterdam and Tokyo.

Paris is a stone throw away and I think everyone should try to see this exhibition over the next 12 months.

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