Where the Women Are: Some thoughts on London’s Frieze Week

Installation view of Lutz Bacher's Chess, at the ICA London, October  2013

Installation view of Lutz Bacher’s Chess, at the ICA London, October 2013

Last week, the art world descended on London for the ever-more-established Frieze Art Fair and its sophomore sister Frieze Modern. While what was once the “emerging,” “intellectual” fair has started to feel more and more expected, Frieze still had a few surprises, like the Mark Leckey booth at Cabinet or Pilvi Takala‘s disarming production for the Emdash Award, in which she shared her prize funds (₤10,000) with a group of children, aged 8-12, who were urged to spend the money however they wished.[You can read more about the project – and Takala – here, or watch the videos of the children’s ideas here.]

Still, it was outside the fair that we found ourselves really engaged. Galleries always trot out their best for fair weeks, and so it was that we found ourselves fawning over the combination of Morris Louis and Cyprien Gaillard at Sprüth Magers, or the eery and ethereal Liz Deschenes‘ at Campoli Presti, which shares a building with Herald Street (who were hosting an Amalia Pica venn-diagram-come-to-life performance) and Laura Bartlett (who had some ripe-strawberry Alison Katz paintings.) We found ourselves swept up in the fantasy of Elmgreen+Dragset‘s Tomorrow, which stages a play within the grandiose apartments of the Victoria+Albert Museum, using relics from the collection to suggest a very distinct kind of lifestyle, a technique last seen in The Collectors at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Installation  view of Tomorrow at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013. Photo by  Anders Sune Berg, courtesy of the artists

Installation view of Tomorrow at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013. Photo by Anders Sune Berg, courtesy of the artists

It was only when we got to Gagosian’s “The Show is Over,” that we started to remember all the uproar that had preceded this show – or rather, its press release. The exhibition explored the supposed end of painting through works by gallery staples, young and old: from Francis Picabia to Richard SerraRobert Rauschenberg, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, from Mike Kelley, Ed Ruscha, and Christopher Wool, to Dan Colen, Wade Guyton and Jeff Elrod. It was an impressive, ballsy selection – that is, until people realized “ballsy” really was the word: of the 35 artists, the only female was Kim Gordon.  Even the Huffington Post caught on to the outrage.

Mira Schendel, Untitled, 1963

Mira Schendel, Untitled, 1963

It was only then that we started to pay attention to a (sadly) rather unique tally in the institution shows. Gagosian’s roster may have been an eyesore, but the institutions of London were filled with solo shows by female artists. The Tate Modern may have showcased a Paul Klee show, but the real buzz belonged to two distinct (and distinctive) shows by the marvelous Mira Schendel  and the first major museum show of Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair. Continuing an impressive streak for cult-favorite Lutz Bacher, the ICA hosted her wry Black Beauty, while Whitechapel sprouted with the Sarah Lucas nuds. The Barbican had Ayse Erkman  while Hayward dipped into the murky depths of Ana Mendieta. The Serpentine may have featured a lyrical show (does he operate in any other mode?) bry Adrien Villar Rojas, but the work went hand in hand with Serpentine’s new Sackler Gallery, a 19th century gunpowder storage house converted into a streamlined exhibition space by Zaha Hadid.

All of this reminded us of an excellent piece the ever-wonderful Kaelen Wilson-Goldie published in Frieze Magazine an issue or two ago (it’s available online for free if you register.) Entitled “Rumours & Recognition,” the essay seeks to contextualize the recent wave of interest in recuperating older, “lost” female artists – among them, she counts the recent documenta triumphs of artists like Etel Adnan, Anna Boghiguian and Charlotte Salomon, along side the Golden Lion winners for this year’s Venice Biennale, Maria Lassnig and Marisa Merz, the “re-discoveries” of Mounir Farmanfarmaian and Lygia Pape, and reinvigorated institutional pushes for Sturtevant, Lee Lozano and Yayoi Kusama. Citing the specific history of their legacy, Wilson-Goldie deems the above “rumour” artists:

With the possible exception of Lozano, who is probably the most exceptional of them all, these rumour artists have become very real, substantiated by exhibitions and books alongside media hype and market buzz. What brings the work of these women to the world’s attention? It would be wonderful, probably foolish and perhaps even misguided, to assume that it’s driven by a feminist agenda, with an army of magnanimous activists toiling behind the scenes to correct decades and centuries of men dominating the histories of art. It would be equally wrong to imagine that the gender of artists is no longer relevant, that it doesn’t matter and belongs, as Sturtevant has remarked, to the vestiges of ‘medieval thinking’. Clearly, male chauvinism persists. The reasons why women have been overlooked as artists are fairly easy to identity. More difficult, however, are the remedies to address the resulting omissions.

We definitely recommend the read.

Anna Boghiguian, Leper, 2008

Anna Boghiguian, Leper, 2008

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