In the past, international art fair Paris Photo has been a little guilty of hero worship. Throughout its history, the annual event has welcomed the big denizens of the photography business as the headline act. And they have almost always been middle-aged men used to breezing through the industry. The acclaim at the Grand Palais has usually been lavish.
"This year, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, we decided to do something different," the artistic director of the fair, Christopher Wiesner told Refinery29. That "something different" turned out to be the first edition of Curiosa, a group exhibition curated by Martha Kirszenbaum.
It is a welcome antidote. Paris Photo is giving its biggest stage to predominantly female and LGBT artists who have never, until now, been properly recognised or acknowledged. The group exhibition, Kirszenbaum says, aims to "challenge our gaze on the fantasised and fetishised body".
"I worked on the basis that the body is political," Kirszenbaum said during a tour of the show. "I hope to ask us to reflect on our relationships to power, subservience and domination."
Curiosa includes historical works by male artists, who, using the female form, have also been capable of interrogating the male gaze. It includes female artists who were using erotic and sensual imagery to say something more broadly about their sense of self, their aspirations for self-expression and their ideals of freedom. And it includes strikingly modern interpretations of lost, archival and vernacular photographs.
Opening today and covering 210 square metres of the main floor under the balcony of the Grand Palais' Salon d’Honneur, female and queer artists who have largely been ignored by the photography industry, and often faced censorship in their own cultures, are finally getting top billing. About time.