Who Wears The Trousers?
On late Thursday morning, as I was adjusting the lighting for one of the exhibited works in my gallery, I noticed a smartly dressed business man in his late 40s looking in.
I opened the door for him and offered him a price list, but he waved it away. Instead, he just wanted to know, “How much is the Moore in the window?” “£225,000”, I told him. “Well, it’s pretty ugly” he said, before adding, “but you’re very beautiful”.
This is not the first time I have heard a line like this in the gallery. I often feel like I am on display as much as any of the art works. In fact, when asking the Director about the dress code before starting the job he told me, “You need to look respectable, smart and I don’t know if I am allowed to say this but you should wear a skirt or a dress”. I wasn’t sure he was allowed to say that and it immediately got me thinking about the role of femininity in the work place.
The truth is that women are usually judged above all on their looks. Articles about successful women stress the fact that they are “beautiful and intelligent” or “glamorous and ambitious”. You wouldn’t hear Jeremy Paxman introduced as “handsome and smart”, or Bill Gates’ net worth preceded by a description of his attractiveness. While I understand the need to be well-dressed, especially in the art world where visual aesthetics are of the utmost importance, I should have the right to choose between skirt or trousers. What matters is that I can do my job (I’d like to see my male colleagues attempt to climb a ladder and change a complex light fitting system in a pencil skirt and heels) rather than how pretty I look whilst I am doing it.
And so, after I had smiled at the business man’s comments about the relative beauty of the sculpture and gallery girl in front of him, I told him why the work was so significant. It was created just after Moore’s visit to see Picasso’s Guernica; the contorted bodies he had seen in the Spanish masterpiece influenced his own use of form. Moreover, created in the year before the outbreak of World War Two the work revealed the tension and uncertainty in Europe; gone were the soft curves of Moore’s earlier pieces, replaced instead with hollowed out, fragmented bodies.
And I could see him start to appreciate it for more than just its superficial appearance.