The modernist approach rejected the spiritualist, ornamental, and performative dimensions of abstraction. This female version of history challenges the limitation of the study of abstraction to painting alone, which is one of the reasons that many women have been excluded.
What exactly is abstraction?
Women in Abstraction also raises several questions. The first concerns the very term of the subject: what exactly is abstraction? Another deals with the causes of the specific processes that made women invisible in the history of abstraction that still prevails today. Can we continue to isolate “women artists” in a separate history when we would like this history to be polyvocal and non-gendered? Lastly, the exhibition establishes the artists’ specific contributions, whether pioneers or not, but in all cases stakeholders in this original and unique history.
Women were the first to invent an abstraction
Women in Abstraction goes beyond the idea that art history is a succession of pioneering practices, and by according female artists a new place within that history, it proves how complex and diverse it is. This can be seen at the very beginning of the exhibition which opens with an unprecedented foray into the 19th century presenting the rediscovery of Georgiana Houghton’s work from the 1860s, undermining the chronological origins of abstraction by tracing it back to its spiritualist roots. Houghton’s work illustrates “sacred symbolism,” one of the themes explored in the exhibition. The spiritualism in vogue in the 1850s constituted a major pathway into abstraction. Women were its precursors in the 19th century: they were the first to invent an abstraction that was not conceptualized as such, defined as a sacred symbolism drawn from a desire to represent the transcendent.
Why do many women artists not necessarily seek recognition?
The exhibition also shines a spotlight on key figures through mini monographs highlighting artists who have been unfairly eclipsed or rarely shown in Europe. In the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, the specific educational, social, and institutional contexts that surrounded and encouraged or, conversely, hindered the recognition of women are brought to light. The exhibition reveals why many women artists did not necessarily seek recognition. It considers the positions of the artists themselves, with all their complexities and paradoxes. Some, like Sonia Delaunay-Terk, adopted a non-gendered position while others, like Judy Chicago, laid claim to a feminine art. The energy of the Parisian scene in the 1950s is underlined by examples of surprising stylistic combinations, with the works of the Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair, Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera and Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid. The exhibition also explores the modernities of Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, not to mention the African American artists whose multiple voices only benefited from certain visibility from the early 1970s onwards to tell their story with several voices and reach beyond the Western canon.
Another theme explored in the exhibition is the role of textiles in the history of abstraction. From the early 1960s onwards, certain artists, mainly from Eastern Europe and the United States, made what were often monumental textile works that did not have a relationship to the wall, but rather dominate the space, like sculpture.
• Dates: October 22, 2021 – February 27, 2022
• Curators: Christine Macel, Chief Curator at the Centre Pompidou; Karolina Lewandowska, Curator of Photography and Director of the Museum of Warsaw, in collaboration with Lekha Hileman Waitoller, Curator of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao • Exhibition organized by the Centre Pompidou Paris in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
• Sponsored by: Fundación BBVA