Muhlenberg’s Martin Art Gallery Introduces “The Woman Who Says No”

Martin Art Gallery Presents Francoise Gilot Lithographs

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A student examines the Martin Art Gallery || Photo by Ayden Levine '23

On Jan. 24, Muhlenberg’s Martin Art Gallery presented an exhibition of Françoise Gilot lithographs drawn from the gallery’s permanent collection. Gilot is described as “The Woman Who Says No.” 

At the entrance of the gallery stands a portrait of Gilot, along with a description of the artist and the empowering nature of her art and personal story. Gilot’s lithographs were displayed on the walls throughout the gallery. Each wall had a set of a few lithographs for observers to walk around and take in. 

To understand the gallery, it was essential to acknowledge Gilot’s background. Françoise Gilot was born and raised just outside of Paris into a well-off family. At the age of nineteen, Gilot rebelled against her father’s wishes of pursuing a legal career, and instead chased her dream of becoming a professional artist. Gilot worked with Endre Rozsda, a Hungarian artist in 1943, and it was during this time she met the man whom she would later marry and have children with, Pablo Picasso. An imperative part of Gilot’s empowering story is that she is Picasso’s only partner to leave him. Picasso famously coined Gilot as “the woman who says no,” due to her strong and independent character.

Gilot’s art was described as a reflection of her independence. She was said to never use models, preferring to draw and create out of memory and imagination. Gilot’s work is between abstraction and figuration, utilizing recurring themes to suggest universal concepts. The exhibition displayed different artworks of Gilot, including prints that had previously been hung up throughout the Ettinger building. 

Jessica Ambler, the new director of the Martin Art Gallery, spoke to The Weekly about her inspiration for the exhibition, as well as what coming into her new position as director has in store for her. 

“The saying is ‘the woman who says no’ and I thought that saying was powerful because she wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself as a woman in this time period.”

Ginny McCoy Swinehart ’23

Ambler stated, “There was a lot to learn very quickly. Trying to put together an exhibition very quickly was a bit of a challenge, but Muhlenberg is an amazing community. There are lots of helpful people, I think I worked with just about every department on campus, and everyone was amazing. It definitely took a village.” 

Ambler went on to speak about her inspiration behind deciding to display Gilot’s art, expressing “I think the first thing was that I noticed how beautiful, and how colorful the work was. But that is not enough to build the show on. You have to sit down and do your research. The more I read about her, the more I was convinced that she is an incredible, powerful female artist. She had been marginalized for many years because of her relationship with Picasso, and she was later married to Jonas Salk, who was a developer of the Polio vaccine. So her life has been overshadowed to some extent by the men around her. I really like the idea of celebrating women artists who have been marginalized in the artistic community to really celebrate their production.” 

Ambler was then asked if she was excited about any upcoming exhibitions or events the Gallery would be hosting, she responded enthusiastically, saying “There are a couple of things I am excited for. The first being a series of movie nights inside the gallery, we are gonna project on the gallery wall. The first one is going to be “Surviving Picasso,” in February. It is based on a book Gilot wrote, titled ‘Life with Picasso.’ The book is about Gilot’s experience with Picasso, from her own point of view. It was a candid and authentic portrayal of who Picasso was, and the movie is so fun and interesting. That will be the first movie we show in the series we have coming up, beginning in February.” 

” Françoise Gilot, at 101 years old today, still paints everyday.”

Anna Hanley ‘25 gave her thoughts on the exhibition, saying “I always enjoy going to different exhibits that happen in the Martin Art Gallery. I was especially excited to see this one. The artist [being] such an empowering and inspiring woman in art seemed personal to me. It was so interesting to know that the pieces in the exhibition were ones I had passed every day in Ettinger. I’m also excited to see what the Martin Art Gallery does in the future, especially the movie night connected back to Gilot and her experience with Picasso.” 

Ginny McCoy Swinehart ‘23 expressed, “I really like that it’s a female artist because normally, female artists aren’t given the time of day. Especially because she was one of Picasso’s partners, and this piece is centered around her art rather than being about him or their relationship. The saying is ‘the woman who says no’ and I thought the saying was powerful because she wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself as a woman in this time period.” 

Jessica Ambler mentioned at the conclusion of the talkback portion of the exhibition that Françoise Gilot, at 101 years old today, still paints everyday. 

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