‘Elles’ exhibit at Seattle Art Museum raises questions regarding its success

Defying conventions

By: Marina Ignatyeva

The Seattle Art Museum is currently the site of one of the most exciting projects in the world. SAM partnered up with the Centre Pompidou, France’s largest modern art museum, to bring a tiny portion of their radical all-female artist exhibit to the United States. It kicked off on October 11, 2012, and will continue until January 13, 2013. Like the Centre, the Seattle Art Museum has taken down all the works by male artists, and decided to showcase only the works by women in the entire museum. SAM and the surrounding universities are also hosting various workshops and lectures by feminists.  This is why the exhibit is called “Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris”. This was done to facilitate discussion about gender discrimination in the art world, and in life, as well as to help viewers explore the meaning of being a woman.

While the overall response has been high praises, there has been a division between mainstream news sources and the more independent sources about the success of the Seattle Art Museum’s exhibit. When Centre Pompidou held their “Elles” exhibit, it was a conscious effort to create gender equality, and resulted in the Centre buying massive amounts of art pieces to balance out the gender breakdown of its collection. The Seattle Art Museum heavily borrowed from the Centre Pompidou, as well as other prominent galleries around the United States, to supplement its lack of pieces by women. Mainstream news sources such as the Seattle Times put emphasis on how the exhibit is exploring what constitutes being a woman, and shows a blend of artwork from different time periods to show how the concept of femininity is not set in stone. It also provokes discussion regarding discrimination against women in the art world.

Independent news sources such as The Stranger, a Seattle newspaper, question about how long this equality will last at the Seattle Art Museum. Both types of news sources agree that the blatant gaps in some of the exhibits at “Elles” indicate just how small the collection of art by women is compared to the usual display of works by male artists. This is understandable, since the Seattle Art Museum does not have the massive resources of Centre Pompidou to purchase new pieces for this exhibit. This is also worrisome. An article in The Stranger wonders if any of the pieces borrowed for “Elles” will be purchased, or if SAM will go back to displaying mostly male artists’ works of art. This would send a message of “lets celebrate feminism, but then go back to the gender-biased status quo”.


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