Elles: Women Artists From the Centre Pompidou

This worthwhile big survey show , augmented by SAM's own collection and a few loans, covers a recent century of art, beginning in 1909. The circulation pattern and individual galleries are essentially historical as you wander through some 130 pieces by 75 women (not all of them French, of course). You start with the contemporaries of Picasso—figures like Sonia Delaunay and Suzanne Valadon, who first broke into Paris salons and galleries. From there, perhaps unavoidably, it's like leafing through an art-history text. Here comes Surrealism, the Bauhaus movement, Dada, the Constructivists, a bit of realist photography from the WPA era, the Abstract Expressionism of the postwar years, then finally the women's lib of the '60s and beyond. It's not until you get to early modern painters like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe that the path begins to veer from prior male footprints. Things improve further with the arrival of the dreaded F-word, feminism, with examples from Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, and company. The real discovery is 83-year-old Yayoi Kusama, in her first appearance at SAM. There's a fecund power to her swirling, spotted, obsessive patterns, her intense dots and clusters of color, her yellow seeds scattered across the orange firmament of I Want to Live Forever. Hers is germinal art—spores, spots, and sprouts—as if spilled from a Petri dish and left to grow in a laboratory clean room. BRIAN MILLER

Thursdays, Fridays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Starts: Oct. 11. Continues through Jan. 13, 2012

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