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Why women artists are taking over the Seattle Art Museum

The Seattle Art Museum has cleared Andy Warhol prints and all other contemporary men’s art from their galleries. Women have taken over in a provocative exhibit designed to show their contributions to art history.

There are several advantages to being a female artist. Women get to see their “ideas live on in the work of others.” Another plus is “being reassured that whatever kind of art you make it will be labeled feminine” or feminist. Best part of all is “having the opportunity to choose between career and motherhood.”

That satirical view is expressed in a 1988 digital print on fabric from the Guerrilla Girls. The anonymous group started in New York City in the mid-80s to protest gender and racial inequality in the art world. Members were known for the gorilla masks they wore to keep their anonymity.

SAM’s exhibit was inspired by the Pompidou Center in Paris, which for nearly two years removed all the men’s art from their modern galleries. The exhibition in Seattle is the only one in North America featuring 130 works of art made by 75 female artists from 1907 to 2007.

“There were always women artists, but it was very difficult for them to get training and access to nude models, for example, that was considered not okay for women. For that reason, many women artists were daughters of famous male artists because they were the only ones who had access to training of a serious nature and you can trace the history of it through the Renaissance and European art,” says Kim Rorschach, who will take over as SAM’s director next month.

Women’s art works were often attributed to their better-known male peers, she says, and only recently have art historians been able to give female artists their proper credit.

The Seattle Art Museum’s multi-media art includes several videos designed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. One shows a woman gyrating with a hula hoop made of barbed wire cutting into her skin. Another video features a woman repeatedly brushing her hair, in manic way, to try and look pretty for a piece entitled “Art must be beautiful/Artist must be beautiful.”

Other pieces in “Women Take Over ” challenge us to reconsider our ideas about beauty, women and the human body.

DijkstraDutch photographer, Rineke Dijkstra has captured a feeling many women can relate to through a photo taken on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in 1992.

A girl in an orange bikini stands awkwardly on a beach against a blue background of beach, sea and sky.

The young woman stands on her little patch of sand, looking isolated. The fingers on her left hand almost form a claw against her leg.

The back story of the photo is that the girl’s mother is with her for the photo shoot.

Mom is out of the camera’s view, but not out of the girl’s line of sight as her mother is telling her to suck in her stomach because she looks fat.

Through the camera, we see the anxiety in her pose and on her face.

The artist is showing us a girl who’s uncertain of who she is.

I looked at the girl in the bikini and knew instantly how she felt. I’m curious to know what you see when you look at this shot.

Marisa Sanchez, SAM’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, hopes men and women will walk away from the exhibit wondering why society considers naked women in Renaissance paintings to be totally acceptable, but aren’t as comfortable with female bodies in photos and videos in modern art, unless they’re perfect.

By LINDA THOMAS, As a teen in the 80s, I wasn’t a part of the generation who fought for women’s rights. It’s only now that I realize everything I have been able to accomplish is thanks to the women who went before me.

Photo credit: Seattle Art Museum, Rineke Dijkstra

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