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Interview: Hauser & Wirth presents 'Seventy Years of The Second Sex' in Zurich

Lee Lozano. No title. 1963-1964.Oil on canvas, two parts 175.3 x 254 cm. © The Estate of Lee Lozano. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich.

Hauser & Wirth presents 'Seventy Years of The Second Sex', a group exhibition in one of its galleries in Zurich. This show aims to instigate a conversation about Simone de Beauvoir's groundbreaking study, 'The Second Sex" with and through contemporary art.

We talk to the exhibit’s curator Dr. Berrebi about intentions and wishes to present these works to the Zurich public. Yea

Dr. Sophie Berrebi: When I proposed this exhibition to the gallery, I was teaching students about De Beauvoir and ‘The Second Sex’ and I felt this urgency, speaking to a younger generation, of inviting them to read the book, of inviting them to constantly be aware of how patriarchy is still a dominant force in society and that it is too easy to fall back into traditional roles and attitudes ascribed to women in society rather than explore, invent, create other roles and behaviours.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled 2019 Dye sublimation print 215.3 x 195.6 cm / 84 3/4 x 77 inches 228.6 x 208.9 cm / 90 x 82 1/4 inches (framed) Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Cindy Sherman

At the same time, I felt that this exhibition topic echoed the DNA of Hauser & Wirth, and its emphasis on female artists, an emphasis that goes back to Ursula Hauser and her collection. I remembered seeing a film, in which Ursula Hauser explains her admiration for older female artists whom she met when she began collecting: Meret Oppenheim (who is an important reference for Lou-Pitteloud) and Louise Bourgeois. This statement is beautiful, and rather radical if you think of the way in which the art world has tended to favour younger female artists (and young artists in general). So for me, to invite visitors to keep in sight Beauvoir's discourse as well as feminism as it has developed in the seventy years since the publication of her book.

Louise Bourgeois Femme Maison 1994 White marble 12.1 x 24.4 x 7.6 cm / 4 3/4 x 9 5/8 x 3 inches © The Easton Foundation / 2022, ProLitteris, Zurich

MM: This exhibition features pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Geta Brtescu, Eva Hesse, Roni Horn, Zoe Leonard, Lee Lozano, Annak Lou Pitteloud, Cindy Sherman, and Lorna Simpson, which you curated. How did you select this particular collection of artists, other from the obvious pairing of Hesse and Bourgeois?

Dr. S. Berrebi: The artists in the show are all, first of all, amazing artists whose works span the second half of the twentieth century until the present day. Further to this, they are all artists that have accompanied me over the years.

Louis Bourgeois and Eva Hesse I discovered as an art student, Lorna Simpson and Roni Horn, later on, as a young art critic. Cindy Sherman, I discuss with my students at university, Zoe Leonard I wrote about in my first book, and Annaik Lou Pitteloud is someone with whom I have daily discussions nowadays about feminism, art and politics. So together, these artists are part of my life, which means that they are part of discovering the world. They constitute an aesthetic and intellectual horizon.

M. M.: What art movements were the first to be influenced by Beauvoir's moral philosophy and ideas? Do you believe that Simone de Beauvoir was influenced by any particular art movements?

Dr. S. Berrebi: Thanks for your question. It is hard for me to answer in general, although I would argue that works of art philosophise in a way that is different but equivalent to the way that philosophers do. When it comes to making a thematic exhibition, it's crucial that art works are not there to illustrate the theme in any way. Here my aim was to present works that simply, in their very existence, claim a space, claim a creative path, and develop an independent intellectual and formal endeavour.

The selection of the works is quite personal, these are works that I intuitively went towards when thinking about ‘The Second Sex’. Reading back some portions of it very recently, I was amazed by the way in which she writes very frankly about sex, about power relations within heteros-exual intercourse, and that is why the works by Lee Lozano are so important in the exhibition. They are the first works that the viewer sees in the show and they engulf them in an incredible maelstrom of sensuousness, power, violence and intimacy that for me echoes passages of ‘The Second Sex’ about sexuality. But Lozano's work also have a dark humour that is not present in the book .

MM: Dr. Berrebi, you write: "The works on display in this exhibition, in some cases, appropriate ideas from "The Second Sex." In others, they might illuminate, muddle, complicate, or underscore the blind spots in Beauvoir’s thinking. In all cases, they continue the conversation." Could you elaborate on this?

Dr. S. Berrebi: So, I guess that my ideal viewer would be triggered into thinking about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be an artist when they see the show, that they will respond to the works imaginatively, viscerally, that the work will in different ways, take the viewer in a journey. I also hope it will make people who have not read ‘The Second Sex’ want to read the book, or read other feminist texts, and those who have read it, to remember it. We have installed a reading corner in the bookstore of Hauser & Wirth Publishers, exactly for this purpose.

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