Flash News : Women also painted – Persona grata


Pliny the Elder famously noted: Pinxere et mulieres (women also painted…)

It’s an exhibition in tune with our times” says Alain Tapié, curator alongside Francesco Solinas and Valentine De Beir, of the exhibition Les Dames du Baroque. Femmes Peintres dans l’Italie du XVIe et XVIIe siècles (The Ladies of the Baroque. Women painters in 16th and 17th century Italy) at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, ending on 20 January 2019. In recent years, museums have organised a growing number of exhibitions focused on the lives and artistic contributions of women artists to art history. In 2017, museums in the Italian city of Florence decided to feminize their exhibition programmes, putting on a show dedicated to the Florentine religious artist Suor Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588) and another to the self-portraits of Maria Lassnig (1919-2014), winner of the Golden Lion of the 2013 Venice Biennale. In 2012 the Parisian Maillol Museum focused on the style and creativity of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654) (also curated by Alain Tapié) whose turbulent life has elicited the attention of novelists, dramatists and film-makers. That attention has invigorated auction demand in recent years with her St. Catherine of Alexandria fetching her current auction record above $2.1 million, in 2017, under the hammer of auctioneer Christophe Joron-Derem. In October 2018 her superb Lucretia sold for nearly $1.9 million at Dorotheum. On 30 January next her Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, a superb work showing the chiaroscuro influence of Caravaggio, will be offered at Sotheby’s evening sale in New York (lot 45) with a relatively modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It could well fetch more.

When it comes to female artists in the narrative of Art History, Artemisia GENTILESCHI is of course a very prominent figure, signing her own works and possessing her own studio in Florence. Her art competed directly with that produced by men and her hard-fought success represented a transgression of her social class and her gender. The Belgian exhibition clearly shows that she was not alone, with works by Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665), Fede Galizia (1578-1630), Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670), Orsola Maddalena Caccia (1596-1676), Lavinia Fontana (1552- 1614) and Virginia da Vezzo (1601-1638). These women were all daughters, sisters or wives of painters – sometimes religious – and they all operated within a strict artistic code. Some were trained in the most prestigious workshops of their times; but all were expected to paint portraits or still-lifes. Although they all seem to have complied with the expectations and constraints, some were past masters at circumventing the rules. Indeed some of their works were powerfully emancipating: allegorical messages hidden in simple portraits… biblical scene as fields of study for ‘natural’ expressions. The organisation of the Ghent Museum’s exhibition is interesting because it presents the artists in chronological order, allowing a much more ‘individual’ appreciation of their work. Sofonisba ANGUISCIOLA was very prominent in Spain’s royal court. On 31 January next, Christie’s New York will be offering a portrait of a young noble that dates from her Madrid period. Two masterpieces from Poland perfectly illustrate Anguissola’s capacity to capture facial expressions and, as we wander through the exhibition, it is interesting to note how many times certain themes were visited by these artists. That of Judith and Holofernes is literally omnipresent, almost a trademark… and it is no coincidence: the notion of ‘female revenge’ is a clearly popular with these painters… and each one approached it in her own way. In October 2019 Madrid’s Prado Museum will be putting on an exhibition of works by Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana entitled Dos Modelos by Mujeres Artistas (Two Models of Women Artists).

Persona grata!

Inversing the expression Persona non grata (undesirable person), the National Museum of Immigration History and the Val-de-Marne Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC VAL) are joining forces to question – through their respective collections – the meaning of hospitality.

Far from a purely documentary ambition, the joint exhibition offers a contrast of realistic and poetic works, inviting the viewer “to move from an observatory posture to one of reflection on exile, hospitality and rejection” to quote Isabelle Renard, curator of the exhibition along with with Anne-Laure Flacelière. The symbolically open scenography is punctuated by five phases of the immigration process: crossing the sea…arrival on terra firma… reception followed by rejection… distress followed by roaming. This eminently political subject is broached by Contemporary artists with diverse visions and sensibilities at the Palais de la Porte Dorée and the MAC VAL (a hotbed of Contemporary creation) including Yan Pei-Ming (1952), Kader Attia (1970), Eduardo Arroyo, Latifa Echakhch (1974), Barthélémy Toguo (1967) and Mircea Cantor (1977). The exhibition also presents works by confirmed and politically outspoken artists like the Palestinian Mona HATOUM (1952) with her installation Suspended, consisting of 40 swings each labelled with the name of a city or capital that the inhabitants of Vitry (Paris) were originally from. There is also the iconic image by Korean artist Soo-Ja KIM (1957) entitled Bottari truck – Migrateurs. Kimsooja has made travel and exile the motor of her artistic work. Another image shows a woman from behind sitting on the same colourful bundles (Bottaris) heading towards the Place de la Bastille with its July column as a symbol of freedom in front of her.

The exhibition also shows works by a younger generation of promising who are artists still relatively unknown on the secondary market: Clément Cogitore (1983) winner of the 2018 Marcel Duchamp Award, presents a 35-minute film on the “jungle” in Calais; Julien Discrit (1978) presents What is not visible is not invisible, a phrase written with invisible ink revealed with UV lights activated by a presence detector.

Never superfluous or moralistic, the exhibition runs until 24 February 2019 taking the topic of immigration and hospitality beyond the mass media and the political sphere.