Women Artists Rocking the 1920s and 1930s

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Women Artists Rocking the 1920s and 1930s
One of the best exhibitions of the Spring 2022 art season in Paris closed on July 10th.  It’s tragic because this outstanding curatorial endeavor deserves to stay open throughout the summer, if not longer, so that the maximum number of art fans have an opportunity to see this magnificent, highly-informative show. Pioneers: Women Artists from the Roaring Twenties (Pionnières: Artistes dans le Paris des années folles) at the Musée du Luxembourg is a celebration and revelation. It celebrates the great accomplishments of 45 extremely gifted modernist women artists in various media, and it reveals to us, in nine thematic groups of artworks, a new way of studying the contributions of women to the arts during this particular era. The whole experience helps us navigate the exhilaration of “les années folles” (the crazy years), referred to in English as “The Roaring Twenties” or “The Jazz Age.” The culture was hot, but the art was cool, controlled, tamed after the outrageous experiments of the Fauves and Cubists during the first 15 years of the 20th century. Art historians call this clean, streamlined “return to order” the new “classicism.” Decorative arts scholars call this period Art Deco, inspired by the French words “art décoratif,” which made a big splash in Paris at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925. However, there were some emerging women artists whose style looked restrained, but their content was not. For them, the party had just begun. A bit of background: Over half a century ago, the major mover-and-shaker in the history of feminist art history, Linda Nochlin, published “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (ArtNews, January 1971). In this ground-breaking article, Nochlin blamed the paucity of truly strong influential women artists on the lack of opportunities for training, exhibitions, and financial support in the male-dominated art world. The article became a clarion call to action. Female, and some male, art historians took out their research shovels to unearth the history of women artists buried by years of neglect. However, unwittingly, the article embedded a negative element too, because it declared that the art made by women, so far, never measured up to their male counterparts, no matter how “interesting” their efforts might seem. This perspective still demeaned women artists in the eyes of art historians, curators, and collectors. As a result, centuries of women artists were automatically perceived as second-rate by the museums, the galleries, the auction houses, the curriculum, and academia. Consequently, the amount of time and money invested in educating the public about women artists has received short-shrift  – and remains so to this day. To change this criterion completely requires shifting away from the white, European, male-centric canon and toward a new paradigm, a different notion of what constitutes “great” art. Pioneers clearly demonstrates a step in that direction. For here we find art that speaks for a multitude of authentic human experiences that deserves our consideration.

Lead photo credit : Photograph of the exhibition Pionnières. Artistes dans le Paris des années folles, Musée du Luxembourg scénographie Sylvie Jodar © Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy

More in art exhibitions, Les annees folles, Musee du Luxembourg, The Roaring Twenties, Women Artists, women in art

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Mercy College in Westchester, New York. She published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art." Her most recent book is a translation and annotation of "Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and 'Young French Painting,'" with an introduction by Jacqueline Gojard.


  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2022-07-21 12:13:32
    Marilyn Brouwer
    So sorry to have missed this exhibition Beth. Some fabulous paintings by artists I didn't previously know about but now will research! Thank you