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The Berlin space presents a retrospective of the committed Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT. From her first successes to her practice of land art, through her reinterpretations of classic paintings, the exhibition retraces an entire body of work dedicated to the cause of women.

In 1967, at the age of 27, she took the pseudonym VALIE EXPORT. A capital act for the woman who, through this means, got rid of the male names – that of her father and her ex-husband – with which her identity would have been forever associated. This iconic portrait by Gertraud Wolfschwenger in 1970, for which the artist exchanged the “Smart” of the Smart Export cigarette brand for “VALIE”, demonstrates a desire to impose herself on an artistic scene dominated by men with an audacity which will make her one of the feminists pioneers.

Speaking of daring, it’s hard not to think of this 1969 portrait captured by photographer Peter Hassmann, Action Pants: Genital Panic, from the filmed and photographed performance, Expanded Cinema, during which VALIE EXPORT strolled between the rows of an avant-garde cinema in Munich with cut  a triangle cut out in her pants  at sex level. A provocation by which the artist intends to denounce the weight of societal injunctions placed on the female body. She will then pose in a leather jacket, dressed in the famous jeans, genitals exposed, machine gun in hand with a gaze defying the lens.

Free body

These rebellious air and tousled hair, VALIE EXPORT rarely displays them, being more represented by the dissonance she creates between a wise appearance and punchy actions.

As during her two performances in 1968: TOUCH CINEMA in Munich and Vienna for which, naked under a cardboard box, she invited passers-by to slip their hands through the box to touch her breasts; or From the Portfolio of Dogness where she walks elegantly through the streets of Vienna holding the artist Peter Weibel on all fours with a leash. All this, under the amused and stunned gaze of passers-by at this reversal of the metaphorical paradigm which directly exposes the imbalance in the relationship between genders.

In Frankfurt in 1970, VALIE EXPORT had a garter tattooed on her thigh, a symbol of the domination of men in their projections of female sexuality. This performance called BODY SIGN ACTION is captured by Gertraud Wolfschwenger in a portrait of VALIE EXPORT, in a long feminine dress and an imposing necklace, revealing the tattoo at the top of her thigh with always this assertive posture. This is how VALIE EXPORT embodies the status quo to better overturn it.

Living in space

If she has also spent time behind the camera from time to time, VALIE EXPORT is above all a true photographic phenomenon in her own right. Through her Body Configurations (1972-82), the artist questions the place of women in urban space and also within nature, by blending into it. She thus calls into question the patriarchal structures that monuments can embody, while understanding body language as a reappropriation of one’s environment. A posteriori, VALIE EXPORT embellishes her photographs with graphic elements – geometric or abstract shapes, red, white or black – to reinforce her reflection beyond the visible. She asks herself: “Is it the city that belongs to me or I who belong to the city?”

Natural landscapes are also the medium of her claims. As in Glass Plate with Shot which consists of a succession of photographs of her naked in the dunes in Belgium, carrying a square window with holes in front of her. In turn, she moves the hole in front of her eyes, her breasts or even in front of her sex. Embodying the act of photographic taking, VALIE EXPORT highlights the asymmetrical relationship between the female subject and the male photographer whose voyeur status is expressed by his reflection in the window.

Photographs, performances, films, collages, installations… Through works free of all social and artistic conventions, VALIE EXPORT has always seized the nooks and crannies of expression to which she could have access. This retrospective which covers more than four decades of dedicating her body to the feminine cause undeniably finds its echo in current struggles.

Noémie de Bellaigue


Valie Export at C/O Berlin
until May 21, 2024
C/O Berlin Foundation
Hardenbergstraße 22–24
10623 Berlin

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