The Art of Femininity

Words by Alex Rayner

29 June 2020

What might the art world look like after #MeToo? A new French group exhibition offers some beautiful insights. Alex Rayner takes us there.

There have been calls for greater female representation across almost all communities in recent years, the art world included. Yet what might the art world look like, were it to experience a greater female presence? Make it along to the Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain (CRAC) Occitanie, on the French Mediterranean coast, and you’ll get a fairly decent idea.

CRAC’s current show, Mademoiselle, takes its title from the French term for ‘miss’ - which was removed from official French documents in 2012, following a long-standing campaign by women’s groups. The show follows on from another wave of female activism, around a catchier, newer term: #metoo or, as the French hashtag has it: ‘#BalanceTonPorc’ (rat out, or squeal on your pig).

Certainly, the show consists of works by women, many of whom are young enough to have qualified for the ‘mademoiselle’ epithet and to have been spurred on by the Weinstein scandal. Yet the works on show aren’t especially concerned with their relationships to or attitudes towards men.

It’s as if the exhibition's Italian-born curator Tara Londi, has adapted the famous, feminist Bechdel test for films: a movie is only worth seeing if it features two women, who have a conversation about something other than a man. Irish artist Jesse James, who represented her country at the 2017 Venice Biennale, has No More Fun and Games (2016), a huge diaphanous, mobile pictorial curtain on a rail, featuring the outstretched arm and sharpened nails of her mother, who is a psychic. There’s Swedish artist Anna Uddenberg’s sculpture, Sister Unit on Fly (2017), a weird hybrid of massage chair, car interior, first-class aeroplane seat, and, well, something else, unnameable, futuristic, and a little bit scary.
Florence Peake’s glittery, glazed ceramic lumps, Psychic Kneads (2017), were formed under séance-like conditions by the artist, and retain a savage beauty. Meanwhile French Mimosa Echard’s wall-mounted vitrine of discarded pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, cherry tones, plastic wrap, seeds, fungi and Diet Coke, entitled A/B24, looks as if it is trapped somewhere significant between the abstract expressionists and the bedroom floor.

They’re all strong, engaging pieces that suggest that an over-reliance on male artists means we’re all missing out. Who knows whether the current campaign for gender equality will lead to lasting change? Yet Mademoiselle certainly indicates that more women-led shows might not just be the right thing to do, morally; there’s an aesthetic advantage, too.

Mademoiselle is on show at Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain (CRAC) Occitanie, 26, Quai Aspirant Herber, F-34200, Sète, France until 6th January, 2019.

If you’d like more pointed advice on this exhibition and any of its exhibitors, don’t hesitate to contact Quintessentially’s art specialists who will be able to offer you the insight you need on artists, as well as how to start or build up your collection.

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