Women Take Over The Seattle Art Museum

by Erika W. Smith

Women take over, reads the provocative headline on the website for the Seattle Art Museum’s new Elles exhibits. Two photographs of blonde women stare out from the screen as a video begins playing: a woman violently displaying her kitchenware as she names it in alphabetical order.


Semiotics of the Kitchen, Martha Rosler, 1975

Elles began in 2009 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which holds the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe. Curator Camille Morineau filled the museum walls with only women artists in what she called “a revolutionary gesture of affirmative action”–disappointingly, only 17% of the artists represented in the Centre Pompidou collection are women.

As you might imagine, some people weren’t happy with Morineau, but the controversial exhibit drew lots of viewers and plenty of attention.


The Blue Room (La chambre bleue), Suzanne Valadon, 1923

Those of us stateside can experience Elles when it comes to the Seattle Art Museum this fall. Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris will feature over 130 works of art from the Pompidou Elles exhibit, including works by artists such as Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and Hannah Wilke.

The Seattle Art Museum is expanding on the exhibit with its own Elles: SAM, a series of exhibitions of the Seattle Art Museum’s women artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe and Joan Mitchell.


No title, Eva Hesse, 1964


And that’s not all: other community organizations are partnering with the Seattle Art Museum to bring Elles: Seattle–a series of shows, exhibitions, and talks about women artists–to theaters, colleges, galleries, and other museums around the city.

American art culture isn’t any better than France’s in terms of gender equality, and may even be worse. Only 5 percent of the art currently on display in U.S. museums is made by women, even though more than half of visual artists today are women. And although women earn more than half of MFAs granted in the U.S., only one third of gallery representation is by women artists.

So, yeah, there’s a huge problem with art culture in the U.S. And though Elles’ “takeover” will only last a few months, maybe the exhibit will help draw attention to sexism in American art culture.



See Elles at the Seattle Art Museum from October 11, 2012 to January 13, 2013. Find out more about Elles here

All images via seattleartmuseum.org

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