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Women rule at the Pompidou

May 23, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Camille morineau

"It's a risk," says Camille Morineau, the curator of elles@centrepompidou, an enormous, yearlong exhibition opening Wednesday at the Pompidou Center in Paris. "Excluding men and showing only women is a revolutionary gesture of affirmative action. But the museum is avant-garde. It's part of the Centre Pompidou culture to do things differently. And we like a lot of drama. This is going to be dramatic in a big way." 

By any definition, the installation of about 500 works by more than 200 artists -- all drawn from the museum's collection -- is an ambitious project. If not the first such exhibition in the world, as advertised, it's certainly the first on such a grand scale. Beginning with early 20th century paintings by Suzanne Valadon and ending with works by such contemporary figures as Pipilotti Rist, Rachel Whiteread, Alexis Smith and Annette Messager, "elles" will offer an international array of paintings, sculptures, installations, drawings, photographs, videos, furniture and architectural models.

Conceived as an alternate history, not a feminist tract, the show mixes mainstream art with functional design and female attitude. Some parts parallel standard versions of art history; others -- particularly performance, representations of the female body and works with a strong feminist viewpoint -- deviate sharply. 

"This is a very un-French thing to do," Morineau says. "In France, nobody counts the number of men and women in exhibitions. Very few people notice that sometimes there are no women."

For the full story in Sunday's Arts & Books section, click here.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photo: Curator Camille Morineau with "Les Piques," a 1992-93 installation by Annette Messager. Credit: Sebastien Gravier