I love living in Seattle but if I ever have any complaints it has to either be a consistent bout of rainy weather or the fact that we don’t have enough art museums. When I travel I always make time to stop off at museums and one of the most memorable ones I have ever been to is The Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. So of course I was excited to hear the new exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum is a display of art created only by female artists and there is an entire section devoted to work that has traveled from the Pompidou Center.
The Seattle Art Scene?
Thursday October 18th I had the pleasure of attending a special tour of the new exhibit for bloggers. Yes, this was a press tour, which started with a wine reception and later moved on to a fabulous tour by one of the museums docents. The second visit was a trip with my husband because I was too excited to share with him the wonderful experience I had.
Before the press tour I had reviewed my own photos from Paris just to remind me of the experience and the art that was still ingrained in my memory. I will never forget the feminist masked avengers who call themselves the Guerrilla Girls as their poster greets you with the statement “Do women have to be naked to get themselves into the Met. Museum” as there is a picture of a naked woman wearing a guerrilla mask. Their wild collection of contemporary posters at SAM also includes: “The Anatomically Correct Oscar” complete with a drawing of a chubby version of the statue covering his genital region, a poster featuring your favorite female stars Pamela Anderson, Hale Berry and Catherine Zeta-Jones scantily clad proclaiming “Equality Now”and many more. They are glued to the wall of the museum as if they are graffiti more than part of the exhibit.
Avant-Garde in the early 20th Century
The Elles: Pompidou exhibits starts off with somewhat familiar museum territory. It shows us that there were female contemporaries to the famous men we know from the early 20th century art. During the era of Picasso, Sonia Delaunay was using bright colors and geometric shapes in her drawings and paintings. There are several of her pieces of art at Elles: Pompidou and you won’t want miss any of them including my favorite Contrastes Simutanes because of the bold use of color.
There are easily recognizable names in the exhibit, even for those who have never taken an art history class. The Frame by Frida Kahlo is a small self portrait painted on aluminum. There is photography by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. And how about Tamara De Lempicka whose name you may not recognize but you will likely find her painting Jeune Fille En Vert somehow familiar. She is a Parisian artist from the first half of the 20th century, often creating portraits for people from the wealthy class. Aside from her paintings she had a reputation for having quite the love life and was bisexual. I suppose it is no surprise her paintings are loved by many including Madonna, who is a collector of her art.
The Modern Female, Sometimes Explicit but Always Real
The Elles: Pompidou exhibit suddenly leaves the art world as you may know it and dips into feminism, sexual repression and what sometimes appears to be a rebellion against the traditional idea that women should look or act a certain way in society. Don’t miss the sign stating that you are about to enter into a section of the museum where you will see explicit images. There is art, photography, video and sculpture all there to help us empathize with and interpret. Much of this section contains art from the 1970s and later.
I found the stories behind each artist as interesting sometimes as the art itself such as VALIE EXPORT’s series of photos from 1969 called Action Pants: Genital Panic. It is a display of 6 black and white photos of herself sitting on a bench in pants with the crotch cut out and holding a machine gun. As the story is told EXPORT had staged an event where she walked through a theater in Munich wearing this same outfit and enticing men to pay attention to the real female rather than the one depicted on the screen. She later became a professor of multi-media performances at a well known German university.
And one of my favorites has to be…..
As a lover of photography one of my favorite pieces in the Elles:Pompidou exhibit is Rineke Dijkstra’s 1992 photo from Hilton Head Island South Carolina. In it she captured a beautiful blond teenage girl standing at the beach with her hair blowing in the wind wearing an orange bikini. The expression Dijkstracaptured on this young girls face reminds me of all feelings of adolescence; the good the bad and the unsure.
In case you are not ready to head straight to the Elles exhibit at SAM I want to leave you with well an unforgettable memory from the Pompidou Center in Paris. Unlike most museums in Paris the Pompidou Center is open late into the evening. After making our way through 2 of the 5 floors we decided we would cross the street and get something to eat. We ordered a carafe the Cote De Provence, moules and frites and returned back to the museum on a full belly and ready take time for contemplation of the art in front of us.
What will I never forget from that night at the Pompidou Center? It has to be Annette Messanger’s three glass cases full of stuffed dead birds. Looming behind those cases was a projector showing a naked female at the ocean hula-hooping with a barbed wire hula-hoop and the sound of the waves crashing behind her. I ran straight into this piece of art at the Elle’s exhibit and well, I am still right now trying to figure out what my interpretation of this is.
If I may define excellent art as something that makes us think deeply, feel emotion and inspire memories then well you won’t leave Elle’s SAM with any sense of disappointment.
Don’t Miss Elles: Pompidou
Make the Elle’s exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum a must hit on your list of activities this season. I know you will be headed downtown for some holiday shopping so take a detour and go to SAM. You have from now until January 13th so don’t procrastinate. And in case Paris is in the cards for your next vacation- please make your way to the Centre de Pompidou. I admit to spending more time there than I did the hallways of the Louvre and for the record I did take an art history class in college on ancient Greek, Medieval and Renaissance art (None of which you will see at Elles: Pompidou.)
You can also check out the Elles: Pompidou exhibit at LUNAFEST sponsored by Girl Power Hour on December 4th at 5:30pm at the Seattle Art Museum. LUNAFEST showcases films for women and by women at events across the country. There is a cocktail reception followed by a viewing of the films. #LunafestSeattle