Thursday, December 6, 2012

All Art is Alchemy

Yesterday I went to Seattle Art Museum to see the Elles: Women Artist from the Centre Pompidu, Paris. Before I say anything more about what I feel is a fine show, I want to say the French feminine pronoun, elles, seems an odd entry. Also, SAM's sign welcoming visitors to the show uses the word seminal in its headline. This seems an arbitrary word choice. Why wouldn't they have chosen the word pioneering? Or groundbreaking? As for the pronoun elles, that choice feels deliberate and not a little bit tricky—why would the show's curators have chosen to use the word those? It felt, to me, like the word other. Maybe this word choice is itself art. All this considered, I did enjoy seeing two floors of the museum dedicated to artist who happen to be women, and, overall, the show seemed a genderless representation of modern art, complete with its grinding machines, whimsical satire, and shock-treatment. There was Pop, Cubist, Minimalist, Dada, Surrealist art. The show included works from Gerogia O'Keefe, Dorothea Tanning, Imogene Cunninham, Fida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman, Susanne Valadon, Natalia Goncherova, and many more noted artists, both living and dead (there was an entire wing dedicated to Atsuko Tanaka, which was my favorite part). Some pieces were overtly gendered, some were not. —I do like the abstractions. I came away feeling like women aren't as angry as we used to be; but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the anger is hidden under makeup and breast implants; squeezed into tight t-shirts and ultra low-cut jeans. What I really feel is that we still haven't figured out how to represent ourselves. We're still trying to say, dear culture, stop caging us in your representations of us. We haven't yet stopped seeing ourselves as objects. But the Pompidu show isn't about how we represent ourselves. It's about filling a museum with underrepresented and marginalized artists. It's about prejudice, and sexism is prejudice. Ultimately, after walking through the show a couple of times, I needed to take refuge. Bernardo Stozzi's Hagar and the Angel, which is one of my favorite paintings in the SAM, is where I had to rest. One of the reason I like this painting so much is, as the description says, the metaphorical wilderness is created from nothing but darkness. And, I like Hagar.

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