Issue of Gender Inequality in Art: How Sylvia Fleury Highlights Feminine Influence in Art

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“I don’t create anything, I don’t invent…” Swedish artist Sylvie Fleury describes her creation methods as purely appropriationist, while using dynamic combinations of art history and her own methodology of using cheap, commercialized materials to devalue the meaning of the work she is referencing while redirecting the emphasis onto her artistic agenda. In her 1992 recreation of Piet Mondrian’s 20th century work “Tableau 1” (1921) (Fig 2), Fleury employs the philosophy of the De Stijl movement to make poignant statements about the way women are perceived in art and modern culture. “Tableau No.1” (Fig.1), does precisely that; appropriating, repurposing and re-working in her preferred medium– ready-mades directly influenced by appropriation artist and art history. With “Tableau No.1” Fleury makes works that reflects the growing obsession with consumerism, and specifically in relations to how women are portrayed in consumerism and the male relationship with art and women.

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As a “post-Appropriationist” multimedia artist, Fleury makes recreated “Tableau No.1” with the intention of adding faint feminine manipulations to the material to harness fundamental visual language of De Stijl in Mondrian’s “Tableau 1” to highlight the lack of female representation in art– which has been predominantly male. Visually, “Tableau No.1” is a cheap copy of “Tableau 1”. Fleury’s use of white and black acrylic paint to create the fundamental De Stijl black and white structure is aimed to cheapen the value of Mondrian’s work. This is achieved through the craftsmanship of the painting– which is shoddy, imperfect and does not mimic the perfectionist line and tonal quality that Mondrian is known for. Fleury takes advantage of the De Stijl simplification of color to use of primary color by overlaying inexpensive faux fur in primary red, blue and yellow, which expands off of the picture plane and wraps around the edge of the wood frame. There are several layers to this use of faux fur. First, Fleury pays visual homage to the philosophy of the De Stijl’s visual language by incorporating the primary colors, but by doing so with her “feminine touch”. This brings to mind a primary colored idea of a woman’s pubic hair. Fleury’s attention to detail with the extension of the picture place is a reference to the idea of a woman being out of control- literally off the plane, which can be seen as a distinct threat to masculine control, and allusion to the women’s liberation movement where not maintaining pubic hair was seen as a rebellious act (against the wishes of men). The texture of the faux fur, and the visual texture reference the idea of the soft, tactile nature of a woman’s skin, which puts the viewer in a voyeuristic mode of viewing, in an attempt to simulate the male gaze and manipulate the viewer into wanting to touch the faux fur. This powerful combination of “post-Appropriation” readymade and recreation of Mondrian’s work takes the viewer’s initial reaction to that of humor and confusion to a deeper level of understanding of the sexualization of women in art and the gaze in which women live under constantly.

Fleury employs theoretical and visual appropriations, concepts of liberal feminism and the irony of consumerism combined with appropriated mixed media material to highlight feminine influence in art. For Fleury, who works as a “post-Appropriationist” artist, she credits the influence of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol- two giants of appropriation, each, respectively worked with ideas of ready-mades and consumerism. The ideas of Duchamp’s readymade are apparent in the use of faux fur layered onto the appropriated composition and visual language of Mondrian’s “Tableau 1”. The latter is apparent in Fleury’s use of the faux fur, which severs again as a commoditization of women in art, particularly the idea that you can buy women as you would buy art. In appropriating the theories and concepts of the De Stijl movement, Fleury borrows the fundamental framework of geometric line and form in composition and employs the universal language. Essentially, the De Stijl movement was a reaction, critically described as a dialecteic response, to the Art Nouveau movement and it’s excesses in decoration and ideology. The reaction was so stringent that the new visual language became as reduced and minimal as possible- total reduction of form, shape, and color was meant to act as a utilitarian alternative for the masses, similar to the Russian Suprematism, then Constructivist ideologies. It can be interpreted that Fleury chose Mondrian’s 1921, “Tableu 1” because of the accessibility of the visual language, it’s directness in theory and it’s value to the art market. Fleury’s entire ideology as an artist consists of creating visual critique of that which has come before with a feminist twist.

Sylvie Fleury synthesizes and appropriates theoretical and conceptual ideas of form and shape of the De Stijl work “Tableu 1”, 1921, by Piet Mondrian in her work “Tableau No.1”, 1992, to highlight the commercialization and commoditization of women’s bodies in art and consumerism. Fleury’s work also rethinks the idea of the male gaze as the idea of the male touch. By using colored fur in “Tableau No. 1“, the viewer reactively wants to touch the fur due to texture and its alluring nature. This is done to mimic the way men feel they have the authority to and can touch women regardless of consent or if it is wanted. In this work Fleury has created a powerful feminist piece that will forever be relevant as long as men and women exist together, especially in a capitalistic society.

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