All Women Shows: a good or bad thing?
Artist Victoria Rance, currently exhibiting as part of the Fe2 16 sculpture exhibition in Morley Gallery, explores this question of whether all female shows are a good or bad thing.
Champagne Life is the Saatchi Gallery's first all-women show and marks its 30th anniversary. According to the press release it is showing fourteen international emerging artists to celebrate both the contribution these women are giving the art world today, and the support the gallery has given women artists early on in their careers.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if in 2016 we didn't have to think about the gender of the artist ?
In the UK now (tuition fees and recession aside) there is undoubtedly a better context for women artists than there was thirty years ago. There are more women lecturers, more gallerists, wider teaching of feminist art history, many very successful women artists as role models. On a personal level men do more childcare, and women artists are more often supported by their partners in the way that traditionally male artists were. There has also been a growing number of older women artists lauded and exhibited in major venues and of all-women and more overtly feminist shows in major public galleries internationally. Most of the population in the UK would now agree that women should have equal rights to men, and even 'gender' as a construct is under question. These are all areas of progress and should be valued and protected especially in times when civilisation itself can seem like a thin veneer.
But a quick head count any day through the listing pages of London shows and you still see that men predominate, the same with auction rooms and sales all over the world.
Does the art shown in Champagne Life address this at all? Should it have to?
When a show is presented as all women, but is not feminist art or linked through any another theme, it can cause a distraction from the art itself as an argument is taken up with the show's premise or curator's motive. Fe2 16 our all women exhibition at Morley Gallery is different in that it was as a survey of women sculptors exploring the capabilities of steel that brought the five of us together. The first of our four shows was in Darlington, a steel town.
The Saatchi show is less thematically focussed as it sets out to present a 'constellation of female artists' and aims to 'play an important role in addressing the glass ceiling of the art world'. Despite the pressure of that context the artists in Champagne Life do win through. Each of them achieves what they set out to do with issues of gender disappearing unless the artist herself draws attention to it.
However for me the most compellingly relevant work in the show is Jelena Bulajic's huge portrait titled Alise Lange. Taken from a photograph it is a mixed media work with a richly textured surface and depicts, ten times life size, a woman who looks straight at us with an uncompromising gaze. This is a woman who has perhaps seen a century of life, who suffers no fool gladly, and is the equal to any other living being.
Fe2 16 at Morley Gallery 11 - 28 January
Champagne Life at the Saatchi Gallery 13 January - 6 March
Photo credit: Champagne Life Installation View
image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
(c) Stephen White 2015