Heroines at Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza (Madrid, Spain)

Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza
8 March to 5 June 2011

Mona Hatoum
This March, the Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid are presenting Heroines, a comprehensive survey of the depiction of women as the protagonists of key roles and as manifestations of the gender identity crisis in western art. The exhibition focuses on strong women: active, independent, defiant, inspired, creative, dominating and triumphant. These female figures are notably different to the seductive, complacent, defeated or enslaved ones that acted out the submissive and passive models traditionally associated with two prevailing and associated stereotypes: motherhood and the erotic object. To employ a key term in feminist discourse from the last two decades, this exhibition focuses on images that have the potential to be sources of empowerment for women themselves.

From Greek mythology to the subversive images of contemporary feminist artists, from the great figures of the Christian tradition to anonymous modern women reading the papers, Heroines presents around 120 works that constitute a complete catalogue of female figures of the widest variety of types and from different eras: Penelope and Iphigenia, Artemis and Athena, intoxicated bacchantes and furious maenads, Atalanta, the fastest woman on earth, hunters and athletes, archers and nudists, Joan of Arc and other virgin warriors, Amazons and Valkyries, the sorceresses Circe and Medea, Saint Catherine of Alexandria who converted fifty pagan philosophers, Saint Eulalia, crucified in the manner of Christ, Sappho of Lesbos, Mary Magdalen reading, Saint Theresa levitating, Artemisia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo and other great women painters.

The exhibition also presents a type of “city of women” that focuses in particular on the period of modern art from the 19th century to the present, although examples are included form the Renaissance onwards. Following a thematic rather than chronological order, it explores the contexts and vocations of these heroines, the iconography of solitude, work, war, magic, intoxication, sport, religion, reading and painting.

Each chapter of the exhibition juxtaposes works from different periods and in different artistic idioms and media with the aim of encouraging the visitor to reflect on change and permanence through these differences. In each section the voices of one or more great women artists respond to the images created by their illustrious male colleagues: Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, Delacroix, Pissarro, Degas, Munch, Nolde, Malevich, Hopper; living female artists (Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith, Mona Hatoum, Julia Fullerton‐Batten, Rineke Dijkstra), and women artists of other periods (including Mary Cassat, Lee Krasner, Nancy Spero, Angelica Kauffmann, Berthe Morisot).