Interview with curators Jessica Morgan and Flavia Frigeri about women in Pop Art and Evelyne Axell.
Watch the video or read the interview below.
Flavia Frigeri: The exhibition is looking at Pop Art from the 1960’s and it’s looking at Pop Art that was made across the World. So we’re bringing together examples of works that were made in Brazil, Argentina, Eastern Europe and Europe… But the exciting thing about the exhibition is that it’s looking at the Pop Art that most people have never seen or know about, so you don’t have any of your traditional big household Pop Art names; no Warhol, no Lichtenstein: all new names! Lots of women which is very exciting…
Jessica Morgan: I think there’s something of a double bind for many of the women who were producing Pop work. On the one hand I think their work was often misunderstood at the time, misinterpreted and misunderstood, and often also dismissed for a number of reasons. Often of course where you had a situation of a choice between a male artist and female artist it was almost always the male artist who was chosen and selected, particularly by a market condition, and Pop was of course immediately very marketable for a variety of reasons and I think a lot of the female artist didn’t make it into that situation where their work wasn’t being exposed and supported by a gallery or by a representative.
But I think there was also the fact that their work was often misunderstood particularly if they were making work that was feminist, of the sort that Axell was, but many of the other female artists who are in this exhibition were really taking on the iconography of Pop and subverting it in some way. And I think at the time that was both misunderstood by their peers in a Pop field but also by other female artists who, perhaps, are also taking on questions of feminist identity and the way in which these artists, particularly Axell, is dealing with the female body and producing as a new narrative around that.
But it was at the time seen as part of a identity with Pop, it was more of a masculine, male gaze of the female body, let’s say. And there was no real understanding of the fact that, in fact, these artists were trying to take back the ownership of this identity and material and produce a new form of Pop. So I think it’s also taken many decades, remarkably, for all of us to be able to look at this work now and say we know that what they were doing was unbelievably radical at the time: identifying themselves within the movement but then subverting the context.
Flavia Frigeri: The work of Evelyne Axell was really one of the early names that we had on our list. When we started working on the project we had a list of names and people that we were interested in and Evelyne Axell was amongst the people very early on that we were interested in.
And so we knew we wanted her in the exhibition. It was just a matter to think which works were going to be in the show and the works were partly dictated by the themes that we decided to focus on. So one of the rooms is about the crowds, so it’s the idea of these crowds protesting and obviously Evelyne Axell made a very stunning work about the crowds. So that in a way dictated which work of here’s to pick.
And then “Valentine” seems a really strong work for this first room. And “Licensed in both ways” was a very key work for our room where we’re rethinking the idea of the domestic sphere, the relationship between women and the family, the way it’s viewed from the outside and the inside, and that work captures it.
Jessica Morgan: The introduction to the exhibition, the first room that you enter has a number… well there is one work by a variety of different artists and what we tried to do was really bring into conversations some of the themes, the ideas, the very significant figures who are important as you’ll see in the consequent series of rooms.
Valentine was important for a number of reasons. I mean particularly as Axell features quite largely in the exhibition, she was a major figure and we wanted to make sure that her presence was felt right from the beginning.
The piece itself of course is a perfect work in terms of some of the questions I was referring to about the representation of the female body, of course the history of women at that time. This extraordinary astronaut, cosmonaut, who is a figure herself, a very major figure, if we think about her as history of feminism, a very important figure in terms of her own activity. And then this idea of taking on that body almost as a self-portrait, of occupying the space of Valentine, of investigating the idea of what it is to complete that body with another type of body, but through the eyes of a woman artist. So it’s also an incredibly beautiful piece. I think it’s a fascinating object in and of itself, its’ materials, its’ approach to painting. So it’s an important work for us.
Flavia Frigeri: I find it such a brilliant work: the juxtaposition of the cosmonaut with the toy-helmet… And also the reason why it’s my favorite is because I always associate it with the images of Evelyne Axell herself, interacting with the work and that’s something that – seeing the artists with it, playing with it – really brings it alive because it takes out that humorous and playful spirit that so much of this art has. I mean, now we see it on the wall and we are very careful with it, we keep a distance, but much of it was born to be played with and that image of her inside the helmet is so brilliant that it will always make Valentine my favorite.
Interview made by Frédéric Moreau de Bellaing on September 2, 2015.