The Belles of Elles: Women Artists from the Pomidou at SAM

Prepare yourselves, I’m going a little feminist today! When I was back home in Seattle, I went to an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum[1] called Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The Pompidou collection contains primarily modern and contemporary works and is housed in an architecturally abstracted jumble of brightly colored tubes and glass windows in the 4th arrondisement in Paris. This exposition displayed art from the late 19th-21st centuries engulfing movements like post-impressionism, abstract expressionism and veering into mediums like photography and video arts. Some of my absolute favorite artists were exhibited including Suzanne Valadon, Joan Mitchell, and Cindy Sherman. At the start of the show, the emphasis rests solely on female painting and its role at the turn of the century where the amount of practicing female artists was limited. However, early in the show the plot thickens diving into the realm of feminist art. The importance of woman as artists begins to play a huge role in how women approach each medium which ranged emotionally from angry to comedic to disturbing. An interesting and bonus read for those interested in understanding the shift of women artists, and the growth of feminist art is art historian, Linda Nochlin’s famous essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

But back to SAM. One of my favorite pieces in the exhibition was ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’ by Martha Rosler. Dressed in an apron and bound by the walls of her kitchen, the ‘housewife’ demonstrates the ABC’s of cooking where K is for Knife in which she mimes not the slicing of chicken nor the scooping of butter but rather the stabbing of air—it’s dark but there is a real sense of humor to it. Of course I also enjoyed the earlier pieces of Valadon, who had quite an interesting life: beginning as a model for Renoir, she learned to paint and was well-known for her love affairs and alcoholism. Her son, Maurice Utrillo—another painter[2]— was fairly upset when Valadon started dating his age-equivalent friend who then lived with both son and mother. Awkward much?

I’ll spare you some of the more disturbing images, but I have to mention Cindy Sherman because I have loved her work since I was 14. Known primarily for her photographic self-portraits varying from her Untitled Film Stills to recreations of Renaissance and Baroque paintings she is one of the (in my opinion) most provocative, amusing and fascinating artists working today.[3]

But let’s take a look, shall we, at some of the art/artists included in this show. Please note that not all the works I show were included in the exhibition, but I will note which are which.  Enjoy!


Tamara de Lempicka (included at SAM)

Blue Rom

Suzanne Valadon’s The Blue Room: a female riff on Mastisse’s The Red Room (included at SAM)


Valadon, Portrait of Erik Satie, one of her many suitors (not included at SAM)


Ahhh, Frida (included at SAM)


Helen Frankenthaler (not included at SAM)


Joan Mitchell’s take on Monet’s home of Giverny (enormous panels not included at SAM)


Another lovely Mitchell (not included at SAM)

Sick Bacchus

Cindy Sherman recreating Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (included at SAM)

Untitled Cindy Sherman

Same woman as above– Sherman in her Untitled Film Stills (not included at SAM)

Your gaze

Barbara Kruger’s Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face (not included at SAM)

Guerilla Girls

I figured since I’m going all out, let’s end on a feminist note. Above, included in the show, is one of the Guerrilla Girls posters.

[1] SAM for all you boss Seattleites.

[2] Who enjoyed the majority of the artistic fame until recently

[3] Although “lovely” may not be the word I would choose when describing her clown series or her prosthetics series.


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