Bourgeois/Kusama: Women in Art Panel Discussion

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Launch Slideshow

LONDON – To mark International Women's Day, Sotheby's hosted a discussion on women in the arts, with a panel including broadcaster Alastair Sooke, Journalist and author Melanie Gerlis, gallerist Marisa Bellani and Sotheby's Contemporary Art Specialist, Emma Baker, who has recently curated Traumata: Bourgeois/Kusama. The exhibition is currently on view at S|2 Gallery, London, until 3 April. Click through to read key points from the discussion. 

 

Watch the full talk on our Facebook page.

All photos: Kate Cowdrey/Sotheby's

Bourgeois/Kusama: Women in Art Panel Discussion

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    Melanie Gerlis



    "At the moment there's quite a trend towards rediscovering artists from the past that maybe have been overlooked – and I think that’s a tremendous opportunity for women, because actually there are so many women artists who have probably been overlooked."



     



    Senior Specialist Isabelle Paagman introduces the panel.

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    Emma Baker



    "For Traumata , we looked at the idea of exile and dislocation. Both artists moved to New York at the very beginning of their careers, and they were coming into art worlds that were totally dominated by men – by masculine art production."

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    Emma Baker



    "Kusama grew up in a very wealthy household as well – they owned a big flower nursery in rural Matsumoto. She had a tough time with her mother, who was very empowered. It was her family business that Kusama’s father married into – so it was almost like her father was emasculated. He took the Kusama name, which was the female, maternal name, and it was the mother who ran the business."

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    Marisa Bellani



    "You said that Kusama's father was emasculated. And I just wanted to mention that we never mention that someone is 'a-feminated'. You are born as a woman with a sense of guilt. They tell you to close your legs – it's very strange, why would we remove anything from the men? It's just ego that is touched, for no reason, and we have to feel guilty about that!"

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    Emma Baker



    "It has been, to a point, detrimental to both artists that we only see them in these psychobiographical terms. Because what they were doing is so much more than that. Bourgeois and Kusama can speak from a feminine perspective – using the private to address the public. I think that's what they do so brilliantly. They've really worked at using the idiosyncrasies of their own lives, but in a way that is identifiable to women and also men internationally and across cultures."



     



    Melanie Gerlis in front of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Nets (FCPR) .

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    Alastair Sooke



    "A brilliant example being Georgia O'Keeffe – in those famous photographs of her, she appears almost mythic and timeless, but she isn't stressing her femininity in any way. And the same can be said for someone like Bridget Riley – she did not want to be seen as a woman as an artist in the 60s, so she deliberately looked quite androgynous and downplayed her dress. But Bourgeois and Kusama do something totally different…"

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    Emma Baker



    "Kusama famously did a show called One Thousand Boats Show in 1963, and she was actually the first one to use a wallpaper of a mechanically repeated image, of a boat. And it was after seeing this that Warhol did his cow wallpaper – three years later. And Warhol is remembered for doing that, while Kusama probably isn't. And the same thing happened with Claes Oldenburg: she made her first phallic soft sculptures in 1961–62, and six months later Claes Oldenburg came out with his soft sculptures! It's kind of outrageous – he went on to international acclaim and she kind of slipped off the radar towards the end of the 60s.

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    Alastair Sooke



    "A lot of women artists in the 1960s were getting exposure – and even perhaps the market prices and a degree of success. But then they did drop off afterwards."



    Marisa Bellani



    "Prices are set now in an equal way, but the catch-up might take a while. But the future is bright for young female artists – you just have to be good, and committed. For women of my generation there will be more equality of wealth, too."

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    Emma Baker



    "We're making progress. I feel like things are changing, people's opinions are changing, and we have to look to the younger generation to set things right. I think that's happening, and the auctions are speaking to that, and the exhibition programme here is speaking to that."

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    Marisa Bellani



    "Maybe art is not so bad. In London, out of 134 galleries surveyed, 31% of artists represented are women; while in the FTSE 100, 17% of directors are women. So we're quite well represented in the art world"

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    Marisa Bellani



    "I think that kids are problematic for women artists. If you look at the time an artist spends in their studio working, and if you have to be a mother as well…it's very difficult. There have been so many 'bad father' artists, and that's ok. But it’s a real choice that you have to make when you're a woman and an artist."

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    Emma Baker



    "Bourgeois didn't like the fact that women had to present themselves separately. She wanted a level playing field. That's something she does in her work as well, in trying to break down gender binaries – in the way she presents body parts that are neither male nor female, they're almost bisexual. So you have both male parts and female parts, almost intermingling. It lays the playing field completely flat in terms of a female or a male expression of what it is to be embodied."

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    Melanie Gerlis



    "We can do a test. How many men are in this room? Can they raise their hands? So it's a talk about women, and the majority of people here are women. We've lost the point here. It means that the 'woman' topic attracts women that want to learn about women, and men don’t show up. If this talk was about abstract expressionism, I'm sure it would be different!"



     



    Guest continued the discussion over drinks after the talk.

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    Alastair Sooke



    "If I go into a gallery and I'm writing about the show, I never look at a work and then say: 'Oh – female artist...' and that changes my opinion. You're looking at the work – and actually that invisibility of gender, and assumption that things are equal is, I hope, very much the future."

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