by Jen Graves
on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 12:42 PM
This boat made of blown-up gloves sprayed silver is by Yayoi Kusama, who also created the great big, bright, five-panel painting behind it. These pieces are just a small part of the Kusama show-within-a-show at SAM. You should really go and see it.
Seattle Art Museum took down its paintings and sculptures by Warhol, Pollock, Gorky, Kiefer, Smith, Judd, Chihuly, Rauschenberg, Johns, Morris, Flavin, and many more artists and carted them off to storage. Not a single male artist from the modern and contemporary period remains on the walls at SAM. In their place? Krasner, Mitchell, O'Keeffe, Frankenthaler, Holzer, Piper, Rist, Kusama, Haven, Hesse, Murray, Amer. All women. Don't know their names? You should and will and can, the museum is saying.
The transformation is called Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists*, and it will last through January 13. One floor up, there's also Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris, more than 130 photographs, videos, sculptures, paintings, and installations made by 75 women artists between 1907 and 2007. No other American museum will get this show. And neither SAM nor Seattle intend to squander this moment—this show from Paris has occasioned the only time since its founding in 1933 that the museum has ever done anything like this.
This beheaded, bearded woman—a real person set out for display at a Paris museum, photographed by the artist Zoe Leonard and part of Elles—watches over visitors to SAM.
But underneath all this celebration of art by women, there are some unnerving facts—and lots and lots of big questions.
To start simply: What does it mean to stuff the concerns of half the population into one-quarter of one year? There's the distinct feeling that we'd better get all the girl business out of the way right now, or else we will miss our chance. SAM, which is run almost entirely by female administrators, has good intentions. But you know what they say about those.
Me and VALIE EXPORT. This photo was staged to recreate a performance that some say was apocryphal. EXPORT maintains that she went into a porn theater with crotchless pants and walked the aisles, showing the patrons the real version of what they were gawking at on the screen, and they stormed out.
Marlene Dumas's watercolor portrait of a girl pissing.
A crowd beneath Niki de Saint Phalle's Crucifixion.