Lutèce Diary, 6: What’s wrong with this picture? At the Pompidou, it’s a man’s, man’s world, baby

Cezanne Vollard.jpgAmong the 300+ oeuvres featured in the exhibition “Cubisme,” running at the Centre Pompidou in Paris through February 25 is, above, Paul Cézanne, “Portrait of Ambroise Vollard,” 1899. Oil on canvas, 101 x 81 cm. Petit Palais, Musee des beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris, Paris. Copyright Petit Palais/Roger-Viollet.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak

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PARIS — It won’t come as any surprise to many of you that, curation-wise, the Centre Pompidou — or Beaubourg, as the locals call it — is one sexist institution. But the mammoth advertising poster — in English, with no apparent translation large enough to read — that confronted me on the Boulevard St.-Germain the other night as I was finishing up a gallery run was an open invitation for a Gorilla Girls reunion or for Oksana Shachko to come back to life and make up with the rest of the Femen for one last unified demonstration. Under the cheeky proclamation “Without the Centre Pompidou, Paris wouldn’t be Paris,” was a list of some of the artists without whom the Centre Pompidou presumably wouldn’t be the Centre Pompidou:

“Joan Miro, Vassily Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, and many others.”

Now, if you’ve been to the Pompidou, you might opine that, male-female artist proportion-wise, this is just truth in advertising. I have, and even without getting into all the other worthy women included and excluded (notably Leonor Fini) from the national modern art museum, from the names on the list itself one name stands out as being ignobly left out: Robert’s wife, Sonia Delaunay, by far the more interesting and versatile artist, the mother of spontaneous color and, with Blaise Cendrars, co-author of “La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France,” at least one copy of which seems to be in the collection of the Pompidou (another is apparently in the collection of my alma mater’s art museum), whose Sonia holdings are a lot more interesting than its Robert holdings. If Sonia — or any other female artist — is featured in the museum’s Cubisme exhibition running through February 25, it’s not evident in the press kit, among which *none* of the available images (including Cezanne’s portrait of the seminal art dealer Ambroise Vollard, featured above) were of work by female artists.

My immediate instinct on seeing the lack of ANY female artist’s name, underlined by the glaring omission of Sonia Delaunay while her artistically inferior husband was highlighted, was to want to write, “The Pompidou is having its Me-Too moment.” My more considered reflection was “Rien a voir. Me-Too designates sexual harassment or aggression, and what the Pompidou’s guilty of here, curating-wise, is sexist discrimination.” And my more informed conclusion is that the twin bases for sexual harassment are the proclivity of some males for violence and domination and the conviction that women’s only legitimate place is in the bedroom or the kitchen, all of which come from the same source as sexual discrimination: the Phallocracy.

(Updated) Artist & Femen co-founder Oksana Shachko hangs herself outside Paris

femen oksana art

Screen capture (from Liberation article) of Oksana Shachko’s final Instagram post.

PARIS – The body of Oksana Shachko, co-founder of the artistic political action group the Femens — which group has been the bane of everyone from Vladimir Putin to the priests of Notre Dame over the past several years — was found hung in her spartan apartment in the gritty Paris suburb of Montrouge Monday, members of the group confirmed Tuesday after multiple news reports of the artist’s suicide. The Ukranian native was just 31 years old.

“She was not the most mediatized of the Femen,” the art critic Quentin Girard wrote in today’s editions of the Paris daily Liberation. “But she was the most brilliant – artist, atypical, radical, anarchist…. She left a political letter denouncing, simply, the hypocrisy of society and men….” Shachko was ousted from the Femen group — known for its political protests, sometimes topless, outside locations like Notre Dame —  in 2014 after disputes with a later arrival, Inna Schevchenko.  “For Inna Schevchenko,” wrote Girard, “the media glory and the recompenses. For Oksana Shachko, the instability, the squats, the problems renewing her papers (to stay in France), the constant crises. ‘Her life in Paris was very complicated,’ her friend, the artist Apoonia Breuil, recounted by telephone, in tears. ‘We lived in the same bed from squat to squat for five years,’ said Breuil, who welcomed political refugees in her alternative theater in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, the Lavoir Moderne. ‘She finally found a little place in Montrouge, with nothing, no decoration, apart from the closet in which she hung herself. It’s very hard. Life was hard.’”

“People don’t understand what she went through,” Breuil told Girard. “Being arrested in Ukraine by the police or in Bellarussia by the political police, being betrayed by her friends.” In 2014, Girard reports, while the two were watching a performance at the Lavoir moderne in Paris, a man who looked like a skinhead stabbed two members of the audience, leaving them in critical states. His apparent target was the Femen, who no longer lived there. “This was before the 2015 terrorist attacks,” Breuil added. “The support” after the assault at her theater “was just not there. We returned to the Lavoir and had to mop up the blood on the floor, all alone.” Lavoir is the French word for communal laundering pond.  “This affected us a lot. Oksana said that these people were attacked because of her.”

femen two

Screen capture (from Liberation article) from Oksana Shachko’s Instagram account. The top line reads: “Masochist, martyr, icon, iconoclast, jesus, art.”

After enrolling in the fabled Paris Beaux Arts School, Shachko, who sometimes riffed on Orthodox iconography, most recently participated in the collective exhibition Talking About a Revolution at the  Galerie 22 Visconti, in Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

“Of all of them,” wrote Girard, “it was she who remained the closest to the original purity of the Femen project, which is to say a movement of guerilla communication, anarcho-feminist and atheist, familiar with the idea of activists” formulated by Luther Blissett, “where the militant must remain anonymous, not looking for her own glory. ‘Everybody should declare themselves Femen,’ she explained to me one day. She was a major contributor to the popularity of this activism which, beyond the media madness, had the merit of placing feminist and political combats, forgotten and repressed in Eastern Europe but also here in France, at the heart of the actuality.”