Should female artists in France stay in the kitchen?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I am so worked up about this, and it is such an old and boring topic but I have to say something. AU SECOURS!!!! (HELP!) The Guerrilla Girls are urgently needed here in Montpellier!

OK, so we all know that gender inequality is alive and well in the art world, and it keeps getting a mention on and off in the media as a whole, but here in regional France it seems to have reached a whole new level.

I went to a (male) friend’s exhibition opening last night held in a government run art space. And a good show it was too, but this is not the issue. As part of the opening speech the local mayor (the equivalent of a state premier in Australia) was promoting future exhibitions in the gallery. He was proud to explain the new decision to use this space to focus on contemporary local/regional artists and did some promotion for the next five shows. There is not one woman artist on the schedule.

At drinks afterwards I got to meet and chat with one of the local government arts representatives. I was brave enough to raise the topic of the lack of female artists. He raised his eyebrows in complete surprise and in shock agreed, that yes, I was right and that it had never occurred to him!!! This blindness seems to be a local disease.

There are five major government run art spaces in central Montpellier (the big main museum, a space for photographic shows, another for contemporary art, a big centre for ‘cutting edge’ digital or conceptual art, and the already mentioned space for regional artists). Currently not one has a solo show by a female artist. And in the forseeable future there is only one woman artist planned for all of the Montpellier spaces put together. She happens to be a big international name – Joana Vasconcelos.

The same applies for the museum in nearby Sète where the extensive permanent collection showed only two artworks by women on the day I visited. I was there to see a temporary exhibition focusing on four contemporary painters – some French, some not. But all were boys. When I mentioned it to the woman working at the front desk, she too was taken aback as though it had never occurred to her either. She said it was just by chance that the artists were all male, and that they had shown some work by women in the past. Can you imagine the reverse scenario taking place where all four painters being shown just happened, by chance, to be women and that the person at the desk explained that they often did show male artists as well?

Each time there is a glaring gender imbalance in government run spaces here I make it a point to comment. I have a good female friend who is a bold feminist and lectures in law at the university. Even she feels that the art situation is pretty hopeless and nothing is about to change soon. The whole French administration system in general seems to be very rigid and no matter how much a few brave people try to change it they ultimately fail. Most don’t bother trying and resignation is the most common attitude. Or trying to work around it illegally instead of tackling it head on – but this won’t work with public galleries whereas it does with things like building approvals. Or lack of.

Not that the private galleries are any better. I  have never made an effort to show in my home town as the French scene is so Paris-centric, but have now decided that I really must connect better with the local art scene. I was considering approaching the two quality commercial galleries here but am now having second thoughts. My prime candidate, the biggest of the local spaces, does not represent a single female artist. I am shocked. The second gallery is actually run by a woman so I am more hopeful when I check her website. She has twenty four artists on her books and, voila, only three are women.

What hope is there? I guess I should still go ahead but this is no longer on my priority list. Or maybe it should be?

PS The image at the top is a progress shot from my studio today. 


  • David

    Hi Chris, Are these paintings for your next solo exhibition? They could reinforce your problem, no? I feel they are strong and would like to see them in a gallery. Do you exhibit In Paris?

    • Chris

      Hi David,
      Thanks for your thoughts! Yes, they are for my next show but details are not yet finalised. As for showing in Paris, getting a gallery there is on my ‘to do’ list. So far I haven’t attempted the Paris scene, but would like to.

      Hopefully my women wielding dusters and spray bottles will be seen in the somewhat tongue in cheek way I am intending them. My characters are no longer stuck at home but performing ‘heroic feats’ with domestic products in the landscape :)) There’s an ecology theme lurking too…

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