Artists of a new genre in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties


Romaine Brooks, Au bord de la mer (detail), 105 x 68 cm, 1923, oil on canvas, Franco-American Museum of the Château de Blérancourt © All rights reserved / photo Center Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. Rmn-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot

It is only recently that their role in the avant-garde has been explored: indeed, it is to be expected that when the role of these women is fully recognized, these movements will be profoundly changed. This exhibition invites us to reinscribe them in this history of art in transformation: from Fauvism to abstraction, via cubism, Dada and surrealism in particular, but also in the world of architecture, dance, of design, of “literature and of fashion, just as for the scientific discoveries. Their plastic and conceptual explorations testify to daring and courage in the face of established conventions restricting women to certain professions and stereotypes. They express in many ways the desire to redefine the role of women in the modern world. The many upheavals of the early twentieth century saw the assertion of certain great figures of women artists. They multiplied after the Russian Revolution and the First World War, which accelerated the questioning of the patriarchal model for practical, political and sociological reasons. Women are gaining in power and visibility and artists will give these pioneers the face that corresponds to them.

A century later, it is time to remember this exceptional moment in the history of women artists. The 1920s were a period of cultural upheaval and effervescence, from which the description of the Roaring Twenties is drawn. Synonymous with celebration, exuberance, strong economic growth, this period is also that of the questioning of what is now called “gender roles”, of invention and experience. of a “third kind”. A century before the popularization of the word “queer”, the possibility of making a transition or being between two genres, the artists of the 1920s had already given shape to this identity revolution.

The economic crisis, the rise of populism, then the Second World War will both restrict the visibility of women, and make people forget this extraordinary moment of the 1920s when they had the floor. The euphoria before the storm is played especially in some capitals where Paris plays a central role, and more precisely the Latin districts of Montparnasse and Montmartre,

The exhibition Pioneers, Women Artists of a New Kind in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties presents 45 artists working in painting, sculpture, cinema, as well as new techniques / categories of objects (textile paintings, dolls and puppets) . Famous artists like Suzanne Valadon,

Tamara de Lempicka, Marie Laurencin rub shoulders with forgotten figures such as Mela Muter, Anton Prinner, Gerda Wegener. These women come from all over the world, including other continents where some will then export the idea of ​​modernity: like Tarsila Do Amaral in Brazil, Amrita Sher Gil in India, or Pan Yunliang in China.

After the “new women” of the XNUMXth century linked to photography, these “new Eves” are the first to have the possibility of being recognized as artists, of owning a workshop, a gallery or a publishing house, of directing workshops in art schools, representing naked bodies, male or female, and questioning these gender categories. The first women to have the opportunity to experience their sexuality, whatever it is, to choose their husband, to marry or not and to dress as they wish. Their life and their body, of which they are the first to claim full ownership, are the tools of their art, of their work, which they reinvent in all materials, on all media. The interdisciplinarity and performativity of their creation have influenced and continue to influence entire generations of artists.

Spatial organization in nine chapters

The exhibition is as abundant as the 1920s, brings together artists and women of art, Amazons, mothers, androgynes in their spare time and almost always revolutionary, which it brings together in nine thematic chapters In some rooms / chapters a selection of it extracts from films, songs, scores, novels and magazines evoke the great female characters of sport, science, literature and fashion. In the introduction, “Women on All Fronts” examines how the war promoted female volunteers as frontline nurses, but also replaced decimated men with deadly war wherever their presence was needed. A gallery of portraits of Berenice Abott, dating from her Parisian years, provides an image of the cosmopolitan city where social backgrounds, aristocratic and artistic elites mingle.

Why Paris? Paris is the city of private academies where women are welcome; the city of avant-garde bookshops, cafes where artists meet poets and novelists whose books are translated and distributed in bookshops unique in the world, where experimental cinema is being invented…. All these places are owned or occupied by women; they are in all the avant-garde and in all forms of abstraction. Paris is them, the protagonists of new languages ​​(cinema, literature, painting and sculpture).

For these liberated and autonomous women, Living off your art is an essential requirement: they develop points between art and applied arts, painting and fashion, invent interior spaces and architectures or even theater sets, and finally invent new typologies. objects such as dolls / portraits, puppets / sculptures, textile paintings. Sonia Delaunay will have her shop as well as Sarah Lipska. , ambitious and relaxed feminine, inventing what will become a must of the XNUMXth century. The new Eve discovers the joys of doing nothing in the sun (heliotherapy), registers for the Olympic Games or promotes her famous name through derivative products, practicing both the music hall at night and golf during the day: she s ‘calls Josephine Baker. While the body unfolds freely under the sun in new poses, it also reinvents itself At home, unvarnished. These modern odalisques are represented in their interiors with naturalism. No need to appear or pretend anymore: motherhood can be boring and tiring; the eccentric nude poses, the undressing an escape from the dictates of the gaze of the world.

Thus developed in the 1920s this new complex and informed point of view of educated and ambitious women, determined to represent the world as they see it, starting with their bodies. It is there that their gaze sharpens, is measured against the past, dreams of another future. The feminine gaze of the 1920s works to represent the body in a different way.

Among the tropes that these Roaring Twenties invented and especially put into practice, that of the “two friends” describes a strong friendship between two women without the presence of men, or a love story, or a mixture of friendship and desire that allows women an assumed bisexuality. The two friends are an invention of the 1920s that painting, literature and cosmopolitan society will represent, welcome and of which they will pass on the memory.

Neither the flappers who succumb to the fashion to cut their hair, nor the Amazons who do not disdain to don male costumes, nor the occasional transvestites or vulgar masked balls, cover the essential emergence of a “third sex. », Ancestor of our fluidity of genres and in particular of the possibility of not assigning a genre.

To conclude, the exhibition will remind you that these artists were also travelers: from one continent to another to form and launch avant-garde movements in their country; or explorers of unknown countries, or painters and sculptors discovering an “other” whose identity they try to grasp without the clichés of the colonial gaze. These Pioneers of Diversity suffered from invisibility in their country: they were able to understand other identities put aside: they have a lot to teach us.

Pioneers: Practical information

  • opening time: every day from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday evening until 10 p.m.
  • prices:
    • € 13;
    • TR € 9, special Youth 16-25: € 9 for 2 people from Monday to Friday after 4 p.m.
    • free for children under 16, beneficiaries of minimum social benefits, unlimited with the Sesame Steps pass, reservation recommended
  • access:
    • M ° St Sulpice or Mabillon
    • Rer B Luxembourg
    • Bus: 58; 84; 89; Luxembourg Museum / Senate stop
  • information and reservations:


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