In response to the Elles: Pompidou survey on the Fourth Floor of SAM Downtown, the curators at SAM have organized Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, a series of exhibitions in the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries on the Third Floor that build and react to each other. Through diverse media, these installations and exhibitions offer a glimpse of the startling innovations attained and a reminder that these achievements were often hard fought for in a cultural landscape that was not always welcoming to women. Fully aware that many artists question or reject the label "woman artist," we focus on them as a group not to segregate but to recognize them as seminal artists whose contributions collectively yield a whole greater than its parts.
Nine interrelated shows and installations in the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries constitute Elles: SAM and highlight some of the connections and breaks in artistic developments during the last 50 years. The installations begin with a look at key works by Georgia O'Keeffe and her spiritual kinship with photographer Imogen Cunningham. A room of paintings by the women founders of the American Abstract Artists Group follows. Yayoi Kusama: A Total Vision brings together drawings, paintings and sculptures from key moments of the artist's career. This will be the first museum exhibition in Seattle of the radical and mesmerizing works by Kusama, celebrated today as an art world superstar. Modern Masters: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler features three American heavyweights who work in the context and aftermath of Abstract Expressionism. Exhilarating and tough, these soaring paintings from Seattle collections pay homage to three visionary painters who developed distinctive painterly styles. Celebratory and ironic, "modern masters" bestows this much-deserved designation upon them, in recognition of their hard-won accomplishments in what was a male-defined domain.
Abstract Currents and Countercurrents shows the constant push and pull between abstraction and figuration with surprising visual affinities among artists of different generations. Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, Agnes Martin, Ellen Gallagher, Ghada Amer and others are shown here in an intense dialogue. Proposed Land Use Action, an exhibition of all new works by Seattle-based Victoria Haven, will be a contemporary and personal interpretation of a minimal vocabulary that centers on found objects. More issue-driven and conceptual is the probing video installation Cornered, by Adrian Piper, which addresses questions of race and racial identity, and Jenny Holzer recreated her celebrated poster wall, Inflammatory Essays, for one of our galleries and a second version will be installed outside at the corner of Second Avenue and Union Street. Last but not least, a designated video gallery will present a selection of thought-provoking videos by women artists, both classic and recently completed works.
Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art
In true feminist fashion, Elles is not an argument, it’s an invitation: A survey of women artists of the 20th century that suggests there’s nothing so definitive, so limiting, as women’s art. Instead there is conversation, there is sharing, there is everything. –City Arts
The work is shocking, funny, disturbing, sexual, pissed off, poignant and exuberant (as all good art tends to be). –Seattle Magazine
(But) this is not a tidy, feminized re-telling of the flow of art historical movements. It is, instead, a revelation, in fits and starts, of the varied positions—hidden, forthright, peripheral and integral—occupied by women artists. –Seattle Times