31: Women Curated by Renate Wiehager: Daimler Contemporary Berlin, Germany

EXHIBITIONS ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN ART HISTORY, CONTEMPORARY REASSESSMENTS AND CONTROVERSIES

The past year, 2019, has seen a remarkable intensification of reassessments, discussions, and controversies on the role of women as objects and subjects in art history. On the one hand, books, exhibitions, and online forums have addressed the exclusion of women from art networks and from the development of artistic tradition, and have conducted a critical analysis of the role of museums in relation to discrimination against feminine esthetics. On the other, there has been discussion of how the contributions of women artists could be included at a new level without engaging in another unworthy falsification of history. This is one of several subtexts of our exhibition 31:Women. Others are outlined below in this

introduction:

  • The collecting strategy of the Daimler Art Collection with regard to leading female figures in twentieth- and twenty-first-century art
  • The Exhibition by 31 Women, 1943, and The Women, 1945, co-curated by Marcel Duchamp, at Peggy Guggenheim’s New York gallery in 1943, as a foundational event in feminist art history
  • The broader context of the Daimler Art Collection’s research and projects since 2016 on Duchamp, curatorial practice, and the readymade

Finally, the focal points of our current exhibition, 31:Women, are briefly summarized.

EXHIBITIONS ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN ARTISTS, REORGANIZATION OF COLLECTIONS, AND ACQUISITION STRATEGIES: THREE EXAMPLES

Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today was the title of a show, curated by Denise Murrell, which opened in fall 2018 at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, New York. In the spring of 2019, under the title Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse, the exhibition traveled, in a substantially expanded form, to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. While New York addressed only female black models in modern images and thus narrowed the critical debate, from a feminist perspective, Paris extended the investigation to black people of both sexes. Some critics felt that this weakened the discussion through popularization. Yet the accompanying reviews repeatedly stated that for every viewer who followed the line of argument of these exhibitions, the famous works of the nineteenth century─Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) or Théodore Géricault’s Le Radeau de La Méduse (The Raft of the Medusa, 1818–1819)─could never again be viewed and discussed in the same way as before. What had happened? Through intensive research, the curators in New York and Paris had managed to identify the names of many of the black models depicted in the paintings as servants, nannies, flower sellers, or slaves. However, this not only restituted the historical individuality of those depicted. It was rather that the underlying social, classspecific, and historical facts shifted into a qualitatively new perspective, and the strategic blindness of art history itself was suddenly exposed to the glare of public scrutiny.

 

A no less controversial international debate was triggered in late summer 2019 at the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, by the rehang, the associated revision of historical stylistic sequences, and the reassessment of the role of women artists in the twentieth century.

 

Over the past few decades, MoMA has repeatedly sought to question the roughly hundred-year-old orientation of white-male-Western art history through thematic exhibitions, publications, and new focal points in the presentation of the collection. With the reopening, a fundamental reconsideration of the museum’s curatorial responsibility and a recontextualization of more recent art are now openly under discussion. Contrary to the tradition of separating room sequences and keeping them in line with the succession of art isms, MoMA’s masterpieces have now acquired surprising new neighbors, both male and female.

 

The room displays exhibit 360-degree perspectives with themes that cut across media, cultures, and art-historical traditions. Since, at the same time, the public’s expectations had to be met regarding the sequence of iconic major works, continual rehangs are planned over the coming years so as to critically address new historical constellations and consider art history as a process with constantly changing evaluations and insights.

 

Important representatives of modern and contemporary art can now meet the more prominent artists on equal terms at MoMA. Louise Bourgeois’s sculpture Quarantania, I (1947–1953), along with a major work by the black American woman painter Faith Ringgold, American People Series #20: Die (1967), and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), can develop new readings by being brought face to face. Henri Matisse’s La chambre rouge (1908) finds a dialogic counterpart in Alma Woodsey Thomas’s Fiery Sunset (1973). The juxtaposition of Wifredo Lam’s picture The Jungle (1943) and the experimental dance film A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) by Maya Deren and Talley Beatty can provide insights into the transposition of existential experience in the relationship between figure, space, and time.

 

The critical question remains: will the works of women artists─decontextualized and presented in affirmative terms─remain mere supporting voices in the great choir of male Modern and 20. Century Art? Statistics on the presence and rating of female artists in current art discourse raise doubts. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, only eleven percent of new acquisitions for American museums and collections were devoted to women’s art.2

 

First seen at: https://art.daimler.com/en/31-women/