The Soapbox: Pharrell Curates Women As Objects In Parisian Art Show

Yoko Ono’s breasts, a model’s ass, and a vagina are front in center at an art show in Paris. It would be just another day in the art world if the person behind it wasn’t one of hip hop’s greatest assets. Which begs the question: Does Pharrell Williams have a woman problem?

The Oscar-nominated musician was recently tapped to curate a modern art show at Galerie Perrotin in Le Marais section of the City of Lights. I was rather excited to check it out on the recommendation of a friend. The show is called “G I R L,” taking its name from Pharrell’s recent album. The themes, according to press coverage in the art world, are a celebration of femininity and of women.

The exhibit featured 37 artists — 18 of them women, including Tracey Emin, Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle. Marina Abramovic, and pieces by the Guerrilla Girls critical of women’s exclusion from the upper echelons of the art world. Yet upon entering the gallery featuring more than three dozen pieces of art curated by Williams, I felt safely uncomfortable, if that makes sense.

The first piece of art that catches the eye of the visitor is phallic rocket in the first room. It’s to the right of a life-like mannequin, whose face is buried into a wall. A nondescript female body should have been a clue of what to expect. From what I could tell, there were no additional details about the mannequin. On my first visit (I went twice) there was a small group surrounding the mannequin. As the resident American in France, I asked the small crowd if they thought she was real in English. The women, including myself, exchanged perplexed glances as we huddled closer to figure it out. The only man in sight was poking and prodding the mannequin and jokingly informing us she was real, while urging us to touch her, too. I declined because, if she was real, I had no desire to invade her space.

Instead, I opted to go to the next room where there was a large Takashi Murakami piece featuring a photo of Pharrell Williams and his new wife, Helen Lasichanh (above), joyfully dancing with each other against a colorful floral background. The piece received several likes on Instagram when I shared it with friends. Yet the photographer behind the picture is Terry Richardson, who has been accused multiple times of of sexually abusing young models. The creep factor alone made any work by Richardson an odd addition to a celebration of women or girls.

I breezed down the stairs passed the unclothed body of another woman, and found myself standing in front of another Richardson piece, a photograph of a vagina covered by a heart-shaped cookie with “eat me” written in icing. There’s nothing wrong with oral sex, of course. But in the context of this exhibit, I couldn’t figure out why this particular Richardson piece was there.

Pharrell is the tastemaker behind tunes like “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky,” “I’m A Slave 4 U,” “Rock Your Body,” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” He’s gotten some criticism for his lyrics, but for the most part he’s considered “safe,” one of the good guys in popular music. To be clear, I didn’t jump onboard the train that called Robin Thicke and Pharrells’s “Blurred Lines” a “rapey” song. But the way he objectified women’s bodies throughout the exhibit at the Galerie Perrotin really left me unclear on his relationship with women.

During the exhibit, I was left wondering why a supposed celebration of the female gender translated into objects that adorn a wall. Art that is expected to convey a feeling became mere body parts assigned a space in a gallery. This feeling was most pronounced when viewing a still shot of Yoko Ono. The image shows Yoko Ono’s bra being cut in a photograph from her 1965 performance of “Cut Piece.” During the performance art, the artist/activist became a prop on the stage as the audience forgot about her individuality, identity, and humanity and cut off pieces of her clothing as a form of entertainment. That one still shot of Ono captured my feelings of the whole exhibit: the objectification of the woman for the amusement of man.

An interest in Pharrell’s celebrity may have drawn me to his exhibit. But now that I’ve seen his curation, I believe the artist might need to look closer at why he chose those pieces. Some of the selections in his exhibit had no meaning other than occupying space using the body parts of women — in the same vein as wearing women as scarves or using women as chairs. “G I R L” seemed more about the male gaze and objectification of woman than honest appreciation.

G I R L will be open until June 25th at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris.

[Perrotin FR]