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The Infinite Woman

At Fondation Carmignac, a powerful summer show questions womens' roles, whether as artists, muses or activists.

Vue du ciel de la Villa Carmignac, Île de Porquerolles © Fondation Carmignac (c) Photo Johan Glorennec

It starts with the vision of a Madonna in a rare painting by Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, ‘The Virgin with the Pomegranate’ from 1487. Five centuries later, the Madonna still seems calm and poised. Could she be the ‘Infinite Woman’?

That is what Fondation Carmignac’s exhibition on the island of Porquerolles suggests; furthermore it questions the multiple ways women have been represented throughout the history of art, from original myths to the present day through the many works exhibited.

Mary Beth Edelson, Selected Wall Collages, 1972-2011. Courtesy of David Lewis Gallery, New York and the Estate of Mary Beth Edelson (c) Nicolas Brasseur/ Fondation Carmignac

“Strong, lustful, seductive, loving, demonic, tempting, or mythical, women have been represented in many ways over the centuries, often in response to a patriarchal vision of the world”, comments Charles Carmignac, who spearheads the Foundation today.

The Infinite Woman brings together more than sixty artists from a wide range of backgrounds and aesthetic movements, whose work deconstructs traditional representations of women: picture the sexy ‘Nurse from Hollywood’ (2004) portrait by Richard Prince; Marion Verboom’s sculptural ‘Clito’ (2022) in wood plaster and crystal; Egon Schiele’s ‘Seated Female Nude’ etching on paper (1911); Peter Hujar’s poignant picture of ‘Candy Darling Lying on her Death Bed’ (1973) or Jean-Michel Othoniel’s ‘Le Collier de Seins’ (1997) in Murano glass. Diversity prevails.

Roy Lichtenstein, Reflections on Jessica Helms , 1990 Collection Carmignac © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein New York / Adagp, Paris

"I wanted the exhibition to adopt a transnational, intergenerational, global and inclusive approach, by that I mean I wanted to assemble the work of artists from across different decades, geographies, mediums, and aesthetic strategies to trace an arc that is surprising and expansive”, explains British curator Alona Pardo.

“No exhibition that takes ‘women’ as its subject can ever be exhaustive, but I wanted to reflect as many different experiences and representations as possible”, she adds.

Billie Zangewa, The Rebirth of the Black Venus , 2010 Soie, Courtesy Collection Gervanne + Matthias Leridon © Billie Zangewa, photo credit John Hodgkiss

The works question and disrupt the art historical canon, for example by installing Mary Beth Edelson’s work – which deconstructs the archetype of the Venus figure - in conversation with Sandro Botticelli, the viewer is immediately engaged. Same when facing Pablo Picasso’s ‘La Femme Nue Couchée avec un Chat’ (1964) which dialogues with Marlene Dumas’ ‘Glitter Bras’ (1999) or a colourful nude by Michael Armitage, two artists that reprise the female nude to question how artists have historically represented women.

A powerful show that raises more questions than it provides for answers. “The title The Infinite Woman alludes to ideas of multiplicity and plurality and in a simple but evocative way argues that the category of ‘woman’ is beyond definition and always embodies complexity. We are always more than the sum of our parts”, concludes Pardo.