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Patti Maciesz writing for VINGT Paris

Elles Anne-Marie Pereira of the Centre Pompidou sums up Elles as “unique because unlike other exhibitions there is no curatorial point, no over-arching  theme. It is quite simply a selection of the works by women in the collection.  With only 8,000 meters of show space, they could never show its full collection.”

Filling two floors and many rooms the exhibition avoids cacophony and confusion by dividing the works into groups with brightly colored text and themes such as "Free Fire" and "Eccentric Abstraction".

The idea sounds simple but the result is a multi-layered and complex exhibition. The work spans all media – paintings, performance, video, design, architecture, and costume with 500 works in all by more than 200 artists. Among them are Agnes Martin, Nan Goldin, Frida Kahlo, The Guerilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, Louise Bourgeois and the show’s cover girl Pipilotti Rist. Even to those of us who frequent art museums there are bound to be some revelations, in my case Kristen Baker, Andrea Fraser, and Ruth Barabash.

The works themselves hold little in common except the fact that their makers are women. The exhibition could just as well pose as an alternative version to any modern or contemporary art collection: The Tate Modern comes to mind as having a similar layout and thematic structure. The section texts in "Elles" are supplemented by extended wall labels which contain quotes from the artists themselves, rather than a curator’s take. 

The feminist collection which has recently become a permanent part of the Brooklyn Museum in New York contains some of the same artists, but it is severely separate thematically and even architecturally from the rest of the museum and in a way that somewhat misses the point. Theirs is a celebration of feminism but not of the history of women artists.

The Centre Pompidou states in the brochure that "Elles" is the first exhibition of women artists in a national museum. On an international level is it is historically significant as well, leaving a very strong impression of the vast contribution of  women on the world of art, design and architecture. Since museum art collections are often dominated by the works of men, the assumption is that there is some inability or absence on the part of women artists. "Elles" proves that there is more than enough significant work by women, to no only fill a large exhibition, but to do so and be on par with any Modern or Contemporary museum collection.

For a virtual experience of the exhibition go to  elles.centrepompidou.fr

Regular admission: 12 €
Reduced Prices: 8,9,10 €

Now through May 24th, 2010

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