Galerie XII in Santa Monica captures women’s vision, art and form through series of photographs
By Bridgette M. Redman
Photos can capture many things, whether it’s reality or fantasy.
Five female artists are exhibiting work at the new Galerie XII Los Angeles space at Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica. All of the artists were carefully curated by the gallery’s owner, Valerie-Anne Giscard d’Estaing, who is a publisher, artist and daughter to former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who died of COVID-19 last December.
The new gallery, which is one of three that Giscard d’Estaing owns (including Paris and Shanghai), has four exhibition spaces where the works of Patty Carroll, Maia Flore, Mona Kuhn, Ziqian Liu and Anja Niemi will be shown live and virtually. Galerie XII is open for private appointments and limited-capacity viewings.
The “Women.On.Women (WOW)” exhibition of these pioneering photographers will be on display through April 10. Giscard d’Estaing is committed to showing the works of international artists, many of which have not exhibited on the West Coast before.
“I have a kind of relationship with the artists whom I represent,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “I thought it was an interesting group show. Women empowerment is something that has been on our minds for the past couple years.”
Not only are all the artists women but so are their subjects, often forms of self-portraits or using their own bodies to create narratives that challenge thinking about women and uncover truths about the way women are viewed.
“Each artist has something unique to express and was chosen because their perspective on what it feels like to be a woman is respectful and urges the viewer to be contemplative,” Giscard d’Estaing said.
Patty Carroll, ‘Anonymous Women: Domestic Demise, 2016-2018’
Carroll burst onto the scene in the 1970s using intense, saturated color photographs to tell her stories. Her work at Galerie XII, “Anonymous Women: Domestic Demise,” explores domesticity and the relationship women have with it. It is her first time being exhibited on the West Coast.
Daylight Books published a monograph on Carroll’s award-winning series in 2017 that has been exhibited internationally. The four-part large-scale studio installations camouflage the subject in each of her paintings, forcing the viewers to go seeking for her. Once found, there is the realization that the woman is not a live one but a mannequin, further challenging the viewer.
“(Carroll) wants it to be anonymous,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “She prefers the idea that it is a symbol for a woman, but you cannot make her real. This whole research is about the situation in which women find themselves.”
In each of the photos, these anonymous women are overcome by various domestic scenes, each dying in a locale loosely inspired by the rooms of the boardgame Clue. There is a mix of comedy and tragedy, a simultaneous grounding and fantasy.
“It is more of this generation where women really had to have kids, do everything at home and be the perfect woman everywhere,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “At some point, it is too much and you get overwhelmed by everything you have to do and you cannot face it. That’s what she’s talking about. Visually it is fun. The subject matter is very serious, but the way she treats it is funny, sometimes hilarious and very colorful and creative.”
Maia Flore, ‘D’îles en lunes, 2019, Works II, 2016-2017’
French-born photographer Flore lives and works in LA. She sets up surrealistic environments and uses her body as the subject in a search for enchantment.
Flore has described the presence in her work as a brush stroke, a call out to the art of calligraphy with the body forming the lines. Flore creates her own reality, something that interests d’Estaing and made her want to include the work as part of the exhibit.
“She does a lot of research,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “Her images are quite well built and quite attractive. She brings you somewhere else. Starting from fairly basic things — a girl dancing on the beach is not something extraordinary — the way she shoots it becomes quite something else. So, starting simple, she creates images that are really challenging to your imagination.”
Mona Kuhn, ‘Bushes and Succulent’
Kuhn, born in Brazil and now an independent scholar at The Getty Research Institute in LA, takes the classic art genre of nudes and imposes a contemporary perspective on them.
In the series at Galerie XII, she pairs women’s forms with succulents, capturing a sensation of both wit and sensuality. To capture the feel she wants, Kuhn spends a lot of time with her models before shooting the pictures. She wants to make sure they understand what the final images will be like so that they can be comfortable throughout shooting.
“Her approach is very straightforward,” Giscard d’Estaing
said. “She spends a lot of time with her models, so they feel completely at ease with their body. The fact that they are nude or naked is not an obstacle. When she shoots, they are quite relaxed.”
The lack of ambiguity and the careful choreography creates images where a woman is comfortable in her own body without being a sex object, d’Estaing explained.
Ziqian Liu, ‘Mirrors’
Chinese artist Liu started her photographic art career in 2018 and has captured international attention with the self-portraits she does with mirrors and delicate objects used to express inner strength.
This is the first time Liu has shown her work in the United States and the first time d’Estaing has hosted her work, though she was familiar with Liu’s from her Shanghai gallery.
“She is trying to show her country is very different from ours, because she was born and raised in and still lives in China,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “The traditional role of women is very much at home. She tries to show that women can look very elegant and delicate, but in fact, she is very strong. She’s trying to express that a woman can be strong and also, through the mirror, she’s trying to show the world as she imagines it. The image is kind of an ideal world where she would like to be, not the real world.”
Anja Niemi, Multiple Works
Niemi tells stories with her camera, always working alone, being an actor, director, author, costumer and photographer in the pictures she creates. Born in Norway, she travels the world to create poetic narratives that raise important questions about who we are.
Her works belong to the genre of conceptual self-portraiture and four monographs of her work have been published since 2016. She carefully stages and plans each work. For example, in her series, “She Could Have Been a Cowboy,” she started by collecting hats, cowboy boots, lassos, fringed chaps, western memorabilia, riding pants and wallpaper. She matched the colors with the locales she planned to shoot in.
“When the character was ready, I packed it up and flew to Colorado,” Niemi said. “I rented a car and drove through the American Southwest with my costumes and camera gear in the trunk. I had a map with all of my locations marked from Colorado through Utah, Arizona and ending up in Las Vegas. I create the story scene by scene, like a very slow silent movie.”
Giscard d’Estaing said that Niemi, who is now in her 40s, was very shy and slightly dyslexic as a young teenager. She started inventing stories because she felt lonely but lacked the ability to write well or express herself in speech.
“She was very visual, and she felt she could express what she wanted to say through photography,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “She started her first series 10 years ago now. She used herself as a character to tell her invented story.”
Together, the artists represent women of different generations, from different parts of the world, all expressing ideas of what it means to be a woman and the different challenges and truths that women discover in their lives.
“It’s a series of women who
are of different origins and generations, but who express somehow the same thing, each in a different way,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “It is a show for women to go to and hopefully, when you see that show, you can identify with one or another of the artists or the works that are there. They can help you to feel better in your life.”
What: Women on Women, a photographic exhibition
Where: Galerie XII Los Angeles, Bergamot Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Suite B2, Santa Monica
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and by appointment 424-252-9004, through April 10