The Women’s Day is not just a celebration to give mimosas, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on the status of women, on the rights they have won and on the goals yet to be achieved.
Recently the #MeToo movement, started in America in October 2017, has helped to stir up consciences and then spread to reach worldwide importance, leading to a wave of reports of violence and harassment suffered by women.
The movement was recognized as being so important that it was included in the third place in the ArtReview 2018 Power List, ranking on the most influential personalities of the art world drawn up each year by the authoritative British magazine, famous for indicating and anticipating new trends.
Also Frieze London, on the occasion of the 2018 edition, came forward to the recognition of the female world by introducing “Social Works”, a section dedicated to eight female artists active between the 80s and 90s who tried to challenge the art market and that stood out in the feminist movement for a strong political and social commitment. The aim was to reduce the male dominance in the art world and shed light on the marginal role that women play in terms of visibility and market.
A leading figure in the feminist movement of the 1970s is Judy Chicago (Chicago 1939), an American artist who has always fought for a recognition of the role of women in art and is considered among the most influential personalities of the debate.
She was echoed by Nancy Spero (1926-2009), a great supporter of the emancipation of women, a pioneer of feminist art and very active also against wars, injustices and abuses of all kinds.
Chiara Fumai (1978-2017), an Italian artist who prematurely passed away and who has always placed a reflection on the role of women at the centre of her intense performances, also denounced male chauvinism. Milovan Farronato chose her to represent Italy at the next Venice Biennale with Liliana Moro (1961) and Enrico David (1966).
About 79 invited artists will be presented at the festival in the lagoon, also Ludovica Carbotta, an Italian who lives and works in Barcelona, and Lara Favaretto.
The Rabat Biennial (Morocco), which will take place in April, will present an all-female edition, exhibiting 60 female artists from different parts of the world. Even more interesting choice since the Biennale takes place in a Muslim country, traditionally not very open to the emancipation of women. The event curated by Abdelkader Damani will be held at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Mohammed VI, but will also see the involvement of other exhibition spaces in the city.
Body Art and Performance have been the favourite expressive means of many artists especially for the immediacy and the emotional impact that they have the power to arouse in the public. In addition to the aforementioned Chiara Fumai, also Gina Pane, Vanessa Beecroft, Marina Abramović, Ana Mendieta are united by having put the body at the centre of their research.
Also Cindy Sherman (1954), an artist currently among the most quoted, uses her body as an expressive medium, but prefers photography. Sherman creates conceptual self-portraits in which she reflects on today’s society’s obsessions and denounces the female stereotypes that are imposed by cinema, television and glossy magazines.
In addition to the serious problem of the commodification of the female body, it seems that women do not receive due recognition not only in the intellectual but also in the economic sphere. According to a recent study, it seems that even in the art world women earn less than men, with a difference in auction prices for paintings created by men or women.
A disparity of treatment we hope will go away also thanks to initiatives such as the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, a biennial prize created in 2007 by Iwona Blazwick (director of the Whitechapel Gallery) and composed of an all-female jury that supports women artists in the UK.
The winner of the last edition is Helen Cammock, an English-Jamaican multidisciplinary artist who uses different mediums like photography, performance, poetry and music and has always been committed against prejudices such as being black and being a woman.
Another prestigious award given to contemporary British artists, the Turner Prize, was awarded in 2018 to Charlotte Prodger (1974), a video artist who proposed a reflection on the landscape and gender identity.
Like them, many other artists have had the skill and tenacity to fight and stand out to be able to emerge in a male world.
One example is Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who holds the world record for the work of an absolute dearest female artist with the painting “Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1” sold for over $ 44 million. during a Sotheby’s auction in 2014.
Follows Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), who with the monumental sculpture “Spider” has reached 28 million dollars in 2015 also from Sotheby’s in New York.
In the field of sculpture, Camille Claudel (1864-1943) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) distinguished themselves, two great artists who had to face many difficulties linked to that historical period in order to express their creativity and innovation.
Hepworth, friend of Henry Moore and wife of Ben Nicholson (also an artist), avant-garde pioneer, has embraced the use of direct carving, a sculptural technique introduced by Brancusi that does not include the use of the terracotta model. Mother of three twins in a historical period that certainly did not facilitate the rise of a woman, Barbara Hepworth was nevertheless able to establish herself in the world of art.
But which are the most popular artists? In addition to those already mentioned, the abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin, Sonia Delaunay, Tamara de Lempicka, Carla Accardi, Niki de Saint Phalle and Frida Kahlo, among others, are experiencing great media attention, and recently, in the first months of 2018, also the Mudec of Milan dedicated a large retrospective to them.
Recently Maria Lai (1919-2013), a Sardinian artist known especially for her “embroideries”, who during her artistic career has used various media such as weaving, embroidery, drawing and sculpture, is experiencing strong and renewed interest. Her work “Bed Sheet” of 1989 was a new record for the artist during the Christie’s auction “Thinking Italian” on 4 October 2018, reaching £ 150,000 (including interest) from a starting estimate of £ 20,000-30,000.
Turning to the living artists, it is Jenny Saville (Cambridge 1970), the brightest star, who is proclaimed as the most expensive woman artist in the world thanks to the work “Propped” sold for more than 9 million pounds at the Sotheby’s auction in London on 5 October 2018. The painting is particularly significant because, besides being a self-portrait of the artist herself, she overturns and challenges the aesthetic canons that impose a vision of the idealized and flawless woman’s body.
Yayoi Kusama, known for the Polka Dots that characterize her works, also had to fight against sexism. She is a highly rated artist, and a documentary film is now on screens about her unconventional life – since 1977 she has been living and working in a psychiatric hospital in Japan for her choice. The artist herself is speaking about the difficulties to succeed in establishing herself in a male-dominated world such as that of the American art in the 1950s when she moved from Japan to New York.
Many women artists are also socially committed to fighting important battles to improve the living conditions of the less fortunate.
Kara Walker (1969), an African American artist who has always been linked to the fight against racism, explores issues related to violence, sexuality and slavery suffered by the coloured people over the centuries. She uses different media, ranging from the collage technique to installations or drawings, all united by the representation of black silhouettes on a white background. Starting in October, the Tate Modern in London will host the works of Walker that will take the baton of Tania Bruguera for the fifth edition of the Hyundai Commission.
Cady Noland (1956) is instead engaged in a critical analysis of the most immoral aspects of American society, such as the morbid curiosity towards brutal crimes or the exaggerated exaltation of male virility.
Other contemporary “stars” are Jenny Holzer, Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley (one of the greatest exponents of Op Art) and Julie Mehretu, whose large canvases are inspired by the densely populated cities typical of our time.
The London artist Cecily Brown (1969), always poised between abstraction and figuration, obtained yesterday (7 March) a great result at Phillips’s Evening Sale London with “Armed and Fearless”, the work of 2014, reaching the quote of £ 1,755,000 including the premium from the estimate of 600,000-800,000, also reaping applause in the sales room.
The list of deserving female artists is – fortunately – very long and it would be impossible to name them all, we can only hope that the day arrives when it will no longer be necessary to make any kind of clarification because we will be – really – all the same.
“The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!”