Catherine Y. Hsieh: How did the concept for the show develop?
Camille Morineau, curator of elles@centrepompidou, interviewed by Catherine Y. Hsieh
Catherine Y. Hsieh: How did the concept for the show develop?
Camille Morineau: Well, it was in a strange way when I arrived in the museum six years ago. I thought about putting up an objectionism show. And then three years later it appeared on a show called The Revolution and Independence of Spain, a European show that gives people a guide in Spain, which we treated very well to the subject. This is the first part of the story, and then the second part of the story is really about the French complex that appears more difficult than I thought, in the sense that feminism is truly a taboo, in a way; here it is considered hurtful because some people think it’s bad. To some people it is something good that never really happened. So it is sort of an in-between story or a situation that I have to deal with.
So I decided to, in a way, treat the subject, the gender question, more abruptly and do it in a very symbolic and complex way so that people can think about it in a general way, [to use] the collection to [raise] the question of feminism/human gender and to go beyond that to take a really critical point of view and the way we build our historical marks in museums so that people weren’t aggressed to the question of the female gender, but rather have to think about the way we choose to build the collection and the way we build history inside the museum. So it became more general, and the result is a lot more options because we do have more to teach; it’s a recent history in the collection, but rather show the complexity, the richness of what women artists have been doing in between centuries in general.
CH: How were the artists selected for this show? How did each artist’s work fit into the design of the show?
CM: Well, as you know, it’s not an exhibition; it’s not a show per se. It’s really a presentation of the collection. It’s not as if we had to pay for presentation of the collection. We worked from what we had in the storage. … [I]f I had done that at MoMA, the result would be completely different because the material would be completely different. Then the way we selected the artists is not that different from the way we select the artists usually. To present the collection on that floor we tried to show what we acquired recently and then we tried to, with one artist with another artist, show something strong. I mean it’s contemporary art feminism. It’s pure. It needs to be proven to a lot of people that contemporary art is interesting or it’s worth speaking of. … If it’s working from individual work, for example, we wanted to show this one piece of Louise Burgeoise; we thought about putting next to it a younger artist and we tried to build rooms with different generations, different medias, putting together for example, a drawing next to a video. [We were] working really with individual works and then they create a room and then one room after another it became a chapter. … The difficulty is that we showed what we lacked, and it really showed the missing artists in which movement or for example, the missing continents, geographical gaps that we have in the collection. For showing the weakness of the collection, you know, being quite frank about that, which was criticized but was very useful because it’s a good way to work on missing artists, or missing works, and missing collectors, artists, even galleries … and then we’ve got a lot of acquisitions, donations. We’ve been working pretty well, [and we] created good dynamics once the difficult step of saying, “Wow, you’re missing such and such work or such and such name.” was overcome.
CH: What is the statement of purpose of this exhibition?
CM: Depending on the point of view you take, the purpose before the show, before it happened, for me in a personal way, was to expose this question of gender in the French context. Then in the process, the purpose became for us as a group to work with the collection completely differently, to accept, to have a critical point of view on not only the collection, but also the way we work usually. And then the third purpose once [the exhibition] goes up and is seen, is more like something that couldn’t be said before but not because people couldn’t talk about it, how strong women artists are and how can they really think of themselves in the history of the 21st century, which is really not obvious before we made this demonstration and now it became really something like a purpose. Although in a way before, once again, before it was done it was a little taboo, the fact that having a group of women together … but the result is really that you completely forget it’s really women artists and this is really I think a strong representation of the collection and then you realize it’s a [women’s show]. [A]nd then people start asking questions like you do about, “how do you select the artists?”, “how do you acquire the artists?”, all these questions about the usual museum practice because a lot of it is dealing with the way we work and being quite frank about it …. That is beyond the gender question because once you expose the criteria of choice, it reveals the choices in general and the way we work in general.
CH: Focusing entirely on female artists, how would you respond if someone says the exhibition is an act of feminism?
CM: [M]ost of the people in my group and group of curators are around their forties and include men. … [T]he result, in terms of content, as I say is that we have very little feminist, actual feminist work. And most of the artists that we present in the show do not consider themselves as feminists, and their work, in particular, is not about feminism and not even about gender. So it’s a complex, difficult question and I don’t want to abuse not only the artists, but also the work through the question of feminism because they all go way beyond that and it’s clear and if you read the catalogue in the exhibition on what the artists have to say about their own work and try to do in the catalogue and on the Web site, trying to show that their work cannot be reduced down to a single question, really it’s much more complex and rich and much more individual than that.
CH: What are some of the artists you wish that could have been included in the exhibition?
CM: We had identified like big gaps like in feminist works, but I think we’re working on that and getting help from a few artists and collectors and galleries. We certainly have to work on the issue, continents like South America, Latin America. … [W]e have been missing some important English artists like Tracey Emin. … The good thing is that some of the missing works or missing names have been, frankly, exposed so that it’s easier to work on that now. … One thing I’d like to add is that I’m just happy that I’ve done that. It’s an ongoing process. There’s a Web site, there’s a blog I’m working on every week …. I’m working on the rotation of the works. We’re actually changing one third of the works. It’s more than 100 [that] we’re changing right now … so there’s about between 13 and 14 new names on the floor in the museum space. So it’s an ongoing museum process. For me it’s not a finished [project], finished as in I can look at it and think about it. A lot of work for me. It’s difficult for me to talk about as if it was a finished process, as if it was going to close. No, it’s going to go on for like another year. So there’s still work ahead.