Femme Fatale

Gaze – Power – Gender

The femme fatale is a myth, a projection, a construction. She symbolizes a visually coded female stereotype: the sensual, erotic and seductive woman whose allegedly demonic nature reveals itself in her ability to lure and enchant men – often leading to fatal results. It is this likewise dazzling and clichéd image, long dominated by a male and binary gaze, that is in the focus of the exhibition »FEMME FATALE. Gaze – Power – Gender« at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Beyond exploring a range of artistic approaches to the theme from the early 19th century to the present, the show aims to critically examine the myth of the femme fatale in its genesis and historical transformation.

The »classical« image of the femme fatale feeds above all on biblical and mythological female figures such as Judith, Salome, Medusa or the Sirens, who were widely portrayed as calamitous women in art and literature between 1860 and 1920. Characteristic of the femme fatale figure is the demonization of female sexuality associated with these narratives. Around 1900, the femme fatale image was frequently projected onto real people, mainly actors, dancers or artists such as Sarah Bernhardt, Alma Mahler or Anita Berber. What is striking here is the simultaneity of important achievements of women’s emancipation and the increased appearance of this male-dominated image of women. In the sense of a counter-image that playfully picks up on aspects of the femme fatale figure, the New Woman, an ideal emerging well into the 1920s, also becomes important for the exhibition. A decisive caesura was set in the 1960s by feminist artists concerned with deconstructing the myth of the femme fatale – along with the corresponding viewing habits and pictorial traditions. Current artistic positions, in turn, deal with traces and appropriations of the archetypic image or establish explicit counter-narratives – often with reference to the #MeToo movement, questions of gender identities, female corporeality and sexuality, and by addressing the topic of the male gaze.

To investigate the constellations of gaze, power and gender that are constitutive for the image of the femme fatale and its transformations over time, the exhibition has assembled around 200 exhibits spanning a broad range of media and periods. On display will be paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists (including Evelyn de Morgan, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John William Waterhouse) alongside Symbolist works (such as Fernand Khnopff, Gustave Moreau, Edvard Munch and Franz von Stuck), works of Impressionism (including Lovis Corinth, Max Liebermann, Édouard Manet, Max Slevogt), of Expressionism and New Objectivity (Dodo, Jeanne Mammen, Gerda Wegener, among others). The featured positions of the early feminist avant-garde (including VALIE EXPORT, Birgit Jürgenssen, Ketty La Rocca, Maria Lassnig, Betty Tompkins) along with current works based on queer and intersectional feminist perspectives (Nan Goldin, Mickalene Thomas, Zandile Tshabalala, among others), build a bridge all the way to the present.

Supported by: Freunde der Kunsthalle e. V., Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, Rudolf-August Oetker-Stiftung, Philipp Otto Runge Stiftung, Herbert-Pumplün-Stiftung, Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media

As part of the exhibition, the Hamburger Kunsthalle is developing a  chatbot in four languages (German, English, French, Turkish) for young people together with the Wüstenrot Foundation as a cooperation partner.

The Education & Outreach programme is significantly supported by Fürst Bismarck Quelle.

Cultural partner: NDR Culture
Media partners: Hamburger Abendblatt, Arte
Mobility partner: MOIA

Hamburger Sparkasse has been committed to the Hamburger Kunsthalle for many years. As a sign of gratitude for this generous support, the 2nd upper floor of the Gallery for Contemporary Art, where the exhibition is shown, has been called »Haspa Gallery« since the end of 2019.

Femme fatale. Gaze – Power – Gender

Exhibition booklet

Femme fatale. Gaze - Power - Gender

Exhibition Glossary

Femme fatale. Gaze – Power – Gender

The chapters of the exhibition