Can you name five women artists? What seems like a simple question can be quite a poser: all the names that spring easily to mind are men’s. Even though talent is no respecter of gender, being granted to men, women, non-binaries and anyone at all without distinction, women were long absent from the official history of art. Few managed to break through, and it’s with a burning sense of injustice that the reader discovers the lives of women artists in Féminin en Art Majeur by the Riviera-based writer Laurence Dionigi. The book came out in 2016, with praise from gallery owner Eva Vautier on the back cover. “It’s incredible how hard women have always had to fight before they are recognised as painters,” says Vautier, warning against potential regression despite the progress made so far. SShe is currently showing work by Simone Simon, whose book Le Vent se lève addresses the conflictual relationship we sometimes have with our bodies, and Natacha Lesueur with her Humeurs de Fées. In this series Lesueur cocks a snook at idealistic images of marriage. One bride, with hairy armpits, wears a partly burnt veil; another wears a nightie and has a firework shooting from her hairdo like a candle on a birthday cake. These artists, so eagerly deconstructing clichés and stereotypes, trained at Villa Arson. As did Caroline Rivalan, who recently presented her work on how the famous Professor Charcot made a spectacle of his psychiatric patients and imposed experiments on women diagnosed as “hysterical”. Galleries can play a leading role in changing mindsets, both locally and internationally.
The Hauser & Wirth gallery, one of the heavyweights in the contemporary art market, opened its Monaco branch in 2021 with an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois, an artist whose recognition came regrettably late. The gallery was founded in Zurich in 1992 by Iwan Wirth and Ursula Hauser, who had started their vast collection of modern and contemporary art in the 1980s. It includes work by many women artists such as Eva Hesse, Lee Lozano and Alina Szapocznikow, who enjoyed short careers before falling into oblivion. They have now regained recognition, thanks, in part, to Hauser & Wirth. With its artists’ estates and selection of young recruits, the gallery continues to highlight women’s talents. It has held a multitude of exhibitions in its Monte-Carlo branch, including one with Rita Ackermann’s Mama series, which addresses the artist’s mother back in her homeland. Another, curated by Tanya Barson, was entitled Bodily Abstractions/Fragmented Anatomies. The exhibitions illustrate the diversity of women’s output and are also part of the broader battle against all gendered stereotypes, as witness the recent exhibition of work by American artist Roni Horn, who documents her androgyny with photos.
By Tanja Stojanov