Honoring Female Artists

AWARE, which stands for Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions, is a non-profit organization specializing in women artists. Its new podcast series The Great Ladies of Art explores the history of 20th century female artists through their own words. The first episode of the podcast is about sculpture and who better to start off in this incredible series than Niki de Saint Phalle!

As one of the most famous female artists of the 20th century, Saint Phalle made a name for herself in an often male- dominated industry. She used various mediums as forms of her artistic expression, political and social views and life experiences; from her early shooting paintings (Tirs) to the full-bodied, brightly painted Nanas made of polyester resin. Saint Phalle’s sculptures became larger and larger, as she created a massive sculpture park titled The Tarot Garden, along with children’s play structures like Golem in Jerusalem, and various monumental sculptures that have been installed internationally (Hon, Hannover NanasComing Together).

AWARE was co-founded by curator and art historian Camille Morineau in 2014. The website describes the organization’s mission as follows:

“The primary ambition of AWARE is to rewrite the history of art on an equal footing. Placing women on the same level as their male counterparts and making their works known is long overdue.”

Camille Morineau is a distinguished curator who has been working in various major Parisian museums for twenty years; ten of those years she spent at the Centre Georges Pompdiou where she curated elles@centrepompidou, which ran from 2009-2011. It was a landmark exhibition, featuring over 130 works from exclusively female artists in the national museum of modern art’s collection. In 2014, she curated a comprehensive and impressive survey of Saint Phalle’s works at the Grand Palais in Paris. Morineau worked as director of exhibitions and collections at La Monnaie de Paris from 2016-2019, and curated Women House (2017-2018) along with the museum’s exhibition curator, Lucia Pesapane. In 2020 Morineau was awarded the Legion d’ Honneur. She was also appointed president of the board of directors of the Ecole du Louvre by decree of the President of the Republic, after being a member of the Board of Directors for a short time.

Along her curatorial journey, Morineau published exhibition catalogs and books, including a retrospective on Niki de Saint Phalle, written in 2014 with co-authors Patrik AnderssonLaurence Bertrand DorléacÉmilie BouvardCatherine DossinNathalie ErnoultCatherine FrancblinCatherine GonnardAmelia JonesUlrich KrempelKalliopi Minioudaki, Lucia PespaneÁlvaro Rodríguez Fominaya and Sarah Wilson.

left: Niki de Saint Phalle, RMN 2014
middle: Women Artists elles@centrepompidou, Centre Pompidou, 2009
right: Niki de Saint Phalle. Gallimard/RMN-Grand Palais, 2014 

When asked what was her incentive in creating AWARE in 2014, Morineau responded:

I think there’s a lack of information on women artists and that the internet is an important tool to share information. It enables students, researchers and the public to find information on our bilingual website. We’ve already published 500 biographies on women artists and we’d like to publish several thousand. Information is more easily available in Europe or North America but we need to work more on Latin America, Asia and Africa. Soon I’m going to recruit somebody who will be responsible for international development so we can establish a network of specialists, obtain information and organise events in other countries and continents. We want to establish better relationships with universities, museums, collectors, galleries and artists. (https://saywho.fr/en/interviews/camille-morineau-art-paris/)

AWARE has created a very comprehensive and all-inclusive website that displays the depth of their involvement and commitment to all things women art, as well as their many collaborative efforts with other organizations.

The organization hosts and takes part in a variety of symposiums and webinars, open to the public who can meet with guest speakers for discussions and questions on topics such as  Women in Abstraction, (organized with the Musée National d’Art Moderne and the Département Culture et Création – Centre Pompidou) or Reclaim: Narratives of African Women as part of a larger collaboration with a project called the Africa 2020 Season.

In 2017 AWARE created the PrixAWARE Reward. It began out of observation that women are underrepresented among artists who win prizes in art world (only 20-30% of artists selected are female). Two winners are chosen each year; the Prix AWARE Prize (for artists whose career began less than 10 yrs ago) & the Outstanding Merit Prize (for artists whose career began 30 years ago or more-lifetime achievement). These awards are supported by Ministry for Culture and CHANEL Fund for Women in Arts and Culture.

The Prix Prize winner will have one or more of her works acquired by the Cnap collections and a production grant for a solo exhibition to be held within the d.c.a (French Association for the Development of Contemporary Art Centres) and/or Platform network (cluster of Regional Contemporary Art Funds).

The Outstanding Merit Prize winner would receive a 10,000 EUR grant and a monographic publication. The winners for 2021 were just chosen this month with Gaëlle Choisne as the 2021 Prix Prize winner, and the Merit Prize winner is Barbara Chase-Riboud.

Congratulations to both artists!

left:  Gaëlle Choisie. Installation element of Temple of Love at Bétonsalon 2021. Source: Twitter
right: Barbara Chase-Riboud, La Musica Red #4, 2003. Source: TL Magazine

At the AWARE headquarters in Paris, there is a documentation center, which gives researchers and students direct access to 2400 references (compiled of monographs, exhibition catalogues, essays, and reviews) on women artists and feminist art. Visitors can access the references in person or online via the documentation center portal. It is also possible to hire a consultant to assist in research.

© Christophe Beauregard

AWARE is an extremely valuable organization, bringing light to amazing female artists that otherwise may be overlooked in the art world. AWARE gives the public access to learn about powerful, creative, yet underrepresented women artists, giving them the credit they deserve.

Just as AWARE’s new podcast series The Great Ladies of Art explores and honors females in art, the New York-based MoMA PS1 is celebrating the monumental works of Niki de Saint Phalle in their exhibition “Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life” (11 March- 6 September 2021).

The exhibition catalogue can be ordered online at MoMA PS1 Artbook Store

Showcased are Saint Phalle’s exploration into large-scale sculpture projects such as houses, parks, and playgrounds. “This exhibition foregrounds the artist’s interdisciplinary endeavours, focusing on the visionary architecture and utopian sculpture environments that formed the core of her later work.” (Source: MoMA PS1)

Exhibition views. MoMA PS1, 2021