Women dismissed—until now

In Australia our Federal Minister for the Arts is spraying the arts community with shrapnel from his canon of arts classics. His Western canon of arty favourites is, by definition, almost exclusively male dominated, created in past centuries and embedded in European culture. You’re a fool Brandis, but more about that in a later post.

At the same time the New York Times is celebrating a very small sampling of the female artists now in their 70s, 80s and 90s we should have known about decades ago.

Works in Progress – NYTimes.com.

I’ve taken some liberties in paraphrasing from the text with some of the stories of these ‘persistent’ women.

Carmen Herrera, 99

…studied architecture in Havana, Cuba. She exhibited several times at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris in the mid 20th century and worked alongside noted artists Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock in the USA. Although Herrera’s work wasn’t recognised in the same way as her male counterparts, she continued to produce work and  was granted a small show at El Museo del Barrio in 1998. During a gallery group show in 2004, Herrera sold her first painting, at the age of 89.

Agnes Denes, 83

…says My work was never really understood. It was shown because it was exceptional and beautiful to look at, which is a trick of mine in order to make complex ideas more easily swallowed. Her work is inspired by interests in philosophy, mathematics and science, including intricate diagrams and “map projections” of the planet Earth onto an egg, a hot dog and — a form that has inspired her for decades — a pyramid. She is a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Dorothea Rockburne, 82

…was in the middle of a dance performance with the Judson Dance Theater when she realised how her love of mathematics and painting could be combined in a unique take on geometric abstraction. I wanted very much to see the equations I was studying, so I started making them in my studio, she recalls. I was visually solving equations. Rockburne worked without exhibiting for many years because she deemed her work ‘not good enough’. She feels that it is now time to curate a retrospective of her work.

Etel Adnan, 90

…is a Lebanese-born artist, poet and writer who did not gain international renown as a painter until her late 80s, when her small but powerful abstract works garnered acclaim at Documenta 13. Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of exhibitions at London’s Serpentine Galleries, has called her one of the most influential artists of the 21st century. Her advice for young artists is to Do what your inner soul tells you to do, regardless of any money or success it will bring you.

It’s unbelievably disheartening thinking about someone like Rockburne believing that her work isn’t good enough to be shown until she is an ‘elder’. How might she have inspired other women if she had shared her process decades before?


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