Women Artists Today: MEAM exhibition from the point of view of exhibitors.

On March 8th, coinciding with the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Museum of Modern Art (MEAM) opened an exhibition of painting and sculpture, showing a selection of the best of Spanish contemporary figurative art.

The exhibition ‘Women Artists Today’ includes works by 26 painters and 12 sculptors. During the time of exhibition (March 8th- April 29th), the museum offers a series of conferences and workshops discussing the influence of women in today’s society — and their role in contemporary art.

It seems that the all-women’s group shows, which fell out of favor in the ’80s and ’90s, is flourishing again. The exhibition in the leading museum of contemporary figurative art is joining at least a dozen contemporary museums and galleries that are featuring women-themed shows. Once again, there is a surge to put forward some careers of neglected female artists and to raise their commercial potential.

The first wave of all-female shows took place in 1970s, with the main objective to spotlight female artists that were mostly ignored by major art galleries and museums. It was then Georgia O’Keeffe, the most prominent female artist of her day, famously refused to lend her work to all-women artists show. She simply defined herself as one of the best painters — no gender included.

However, despite that and following waves of exhibitions, neither O’Keeffe nor any other woman would break into “Janson’s History of Art”, not until later, in 1987.

There is an interesting article by Maura Reilly, a curator and arts writer, who is also executive director of the National Academy of Design in New York and founding curator of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

In her 2015 Artnews article “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures and Fixes,” http://www.artnews.com/2015/05/26/taking-the-measure-of-sexism-facts-figures-and-fixes/ she showed the statistics of a vast gender imbalance still prevailing in museum exhibitions and permanent collections. The imbalance is affecting the prices, gallery representation and press coverage. Only seven percent of the artists on view in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection were women. Reilly concludes her article with saying that, although some great women artists have obviously emerged, those are still token achievers.

MEAM current show offered me an opportunity to ask some of the exhibiting artists what they think about the importance of all-female exhibitions, the influence of female artists in contemporary art world — as well as their experience with this particular exhibition and inspiration behind their work.

Miriam Escofet

Pastel Study for ‘An Angel at my Table’, pastel on paper 80 x 55 cm

M.E: This work is an exploratory pastel study for a subsequent oil portrait of my mother. I have depicted her surrounded by tea crockery, as drinking tea is one of her greatest pleasures.

I wanted to suggest a sense of space, perspective and time, by placing her at the centre of the pictorial space and having the perspective of the table and the objects all lead to a vanishing point contained within her. In this way also alluding to the idea of the ‘mother’ being at the centre of our psyche and emotional world. So although this work is very much a portrait of my mother, I was also conscious of wanting to transmit an idea of the ‘Universal Mother’. I wanted this piece to sit somewhere between a painting and a drawing.

Gillian, oil on canvas over board, 70x50cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

I think it is a wonderful idea of the MEAM to host an all-female exhibition and dispel any ideas that women cannot paint as well, interestingly, or dynamically as men. Having said that I make no distinction in gender when viewing art, it is simply not an issue for me. Of course, some artists’ works are very much engaged with the theme of gender and personal experience and it is interesting and exciting to see women taking ownership of their own narrative and how they are portrayed in art.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

I think women are making themselves much more present in the art world and gaining parity with male artists. It is undeniable that the whole history of art until relatively recently has been completely dominated by men, with very rare exceptions. There is also the fact that, for centuries, most women depicted in art have been painted by men for other men.

Having said this however, and at the risk of sounding self contradictory, I think the wonderful thing about art is that it is infinitely transmutable through the viewer. There are many ways to appreciate art; through its narrative, through its plastic qualities or through its aesthetic qualities. I do not believe in censoring or revising historical work through the lens of contemporary political correctness and I think we sometimes verge into dangerous territory feminist revisionism.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

I think the MEAM set out to demonstrate the variety of styles and ideas contained within contemporary female artists’ works and I think it has done this very successfully. I was particularly struck at the rawness, dynamism, boldness and ambition of some of the works on show.

I think this exhibition will prove to be inspirational for young aspiring female and male artists.

Almudena Mahiques

La mirada de Júlia, charcoal and graphite pencil on paper, 60x 80 cm

A.M.:The inspiration for my work is my own daughter. As a mother and artist I see in her look a great strength and intensity, a depth that leads me to believe even more in the existence of the soul. How can explain such maturity in the look of a girl of only 3 years of age? It is in her look that I find my everyday inspiration to paint (and, of course, in many other things.) My intention is to transmit what I feel through my work.

Cor Aurum, radices fortis, charcoal, graphite and gold leaf on arches paper, 75x120 cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

I think they are very important, especially since the role of the female in Art has typically been in the background and almost nonexistent. The work of female artists must be admired and known to the same extent as that of the male artists. Given that, unfortunately, this is still not the case, I think this is a very good initiative. However, I hope there will soon be no need to organize exhibitions exclusively for women, and that art will prevail regardless of sex.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

From my short experience, I could say the names of women artists are increasingly becoming well known world-wide but, unfortunately, they still have not reached the same international impact level as men. I’ve noticed this in the media. I’ve see names of artists winning important international painting contests lately, for example. That is already an indication of the small progress of women in the world of art.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

I think it is a good response on the part of the MEAM to a curator of an exhibition that took place in the Canary Islands who said that there were no female artists with enough level to share a poster with the male artists. This exhibition clearly demonstrates that there are indeed women with high artistic level in Spain.

Virginia Bersabé

Armonia, oil on canvas, 195 x 130 cm

V.B.:The inspiration behind my exhibited pieces at the museum is the old age. Specifically the old age seen from the point of view of an old woman; which why I started to work with my grandmother. Two of the three paintings are of her.

Tu eres nuestra nueva luz, oil. on canvas, 146 x 146 cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

Nowadays I consider that all-female exhibitions are very necessary, unfortunately. There is still no equality and parity in the visual arts. That’s why, even if we are not agree with it, we have to work to get the same visibility are men. And like with everything else, the only way to achieve this is to keep working.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

Yes, I think that the influence of women is increasing — very slowly, but it does. I notice that by looking at the last 50 years of art: exhibitions, articles, Museum shows. We are finally getting the results based on work, unity and struggle.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

I feel that the importance on this show is how the Museum defends and demonstrates that there are many hugely talented women in art. It is a good example for all those people in the art world who are still not up to date.

Natalia Cordon Nombela

Penas del Alma, oil on wood, 85cm x 57,5cm

N.N.:This work belong to fragments that display a large part of my self, something a lot of my works do. I investigate how the female archetypes are transmitted from generation to generation, especially from mothers to daughters. Throughout the different stages of life, love has a direct impact on health both physically and emotionally.

Health is affected by our diet and traumas we experience throughout life.

Desperdicios, oil on wood, 93 cm x 60cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

I think they are necessary, however, it is absurd that they are still needed in order to claim a women’s place in the contemporary art.

I think they are necessary, however, it is absurd that they are needed, in order to claim a women’s place in the contemporary art.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

Honestly, I do not believe that women have a greater influence today and I think there is still a long way to go in that sense. With exhibitions such as this one at the MEAM, we are given a visibility that is the exception to the norm. There is still a notable lack of female presence.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

This exhibition in particular has many components that make it attractive, but the vision of women about women is surely the most significant.

Macu Jordà

Lethargy, oil on canvas, 210x70 cm

M.J.:In almost all my work, the inspiration is somehow metaphysical, I speak of loneliness, of the impotence of building a better world, of a certain personal nihilism. The hardness in the precariousness of existence denoted in my paintings connects with a poetic intention, a personal oasis, a small hope in the human being.

Woman is represented in all my artistic creations, my vision is completely feminine. I suppose the reason of it is because I am a woman.

The lady of the ribbon, oil on board, 120x60 cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

I believe that in art, as in almost everything in our society, women have always lived in men’s shadow. The intention of this exhibition is to somewhat compensate for this unfair situation. All attempts to heal the injustice differences should be always welcomed.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

I believe woman is definitely taking their rightful place in the art world. Currently, at exhibitions, women’s names are appearing more and more frequently.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

I’m very pleased with MEAM’s involvement in filling the gender gap of recognition; I really appreciate the work they have done.

Susana Ragel

Indiference, oil on canvas, 200x200 cm

S.R.: “Indifference” belongs to a project about climate change. The image that appears at the bottom of the painting is Hurricane Katrina passing over New Orleans, the protagonist of the painting is a teenager in an indifferent attitude. Due to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the temperatures rise and this results in extreme weather. The painting intends to be a criticism of our indifference to the destruction of our planet. It is especially aimed at teenagers, they are an important part in the future of our society. The other painting represents more positive feelings, the smallness of the human being compared to the immensity of nature, represented in a figure admiring the sunset.

Sunset, oil on canvas, 195x130 cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

It is sad that they have to do gender exhibitions. Hopefully one day they will not be necessary, but today discrimination towards women artists is tangible. We aren´t invited to participate in the prestigious exhibitions as much as we should; there are too many prejudices and misconception involved. Women have been treated differently from the dawn of history, and I don’t understand why. These exhibitions help us to be present, let the audience know that our work exists — and that the work is masterful.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

Yes, little by little. I think that the times we are living in are complicated, our predecessors at the end of the twentieth century progressed a lot for the cause of the recognition of women, but today it seems we are walking backwards, and not only in the art world.

World politics tend to get more conservative, gender violence is rising in Spain, women’s numbers at art fairs are low and the same is in competitions. It is certainly complicated.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

It is a possibility to promote the group of excellent women artists. It also addresses all those women who aren’t a part of this exhibition, but whose work is also exceptional. I hope after this exhibition European museums and galleries will be encouraged to consider and invite female artists important shows more frequently than they are currently doing.

Irene Cuadrado Hernandez

My Daughter in the Air, oil on linen over board, 180x180cm

I.C.H.: I am inspired by what is closed to me: my daughters, my mother. For instance, the painting “Naked Mother” is a representation of triumphant Jesus Christ. I focused on the light around her scars, dark shadows of her belly, with her navel is the vanishing point of the composition. It is full of symbolism, a sample of Renaissance and Resurrection. I worked on this portrait at the same spot -a corner of the old family house. I painted my mum in the moment of depression; a shrunken figure. Both my paintings stand for life as it is, with ups and downs repeated all over again. It is a necessity to me to tell the story through my own experience, just like when I am painting my daughters. One of them is up in the air — that’s how I see her future. The other daughter captured with her challenging look of disobedience. It is about the difficult relationship between mother and daughter.

Mother, oil on linen over board, 220x160cm

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

We need to remember those extra problems we have as women. Although I don’t mean that we should be invited to exhibitions because we are women, we should be invited to show the quality of our work.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

I don’t think there is growing female influence in arts; perhaps just a little more of the presence than before.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

We need to call for unity, not only in art, but also in other fields. Unfortunately, the divide still exists and it must not continue to happen.

Josefa Medina Lopez

Chema, oil on canvas, 100x70 cm

J.M.L.:In my work, I am focusing on bringing. out the strong personality and individual characters of my subjects.

Given the theme of the MEAM show, how important you think are all-female exhibitions today?

Being a woman she validates my place in the artistic community. I am a contemporary artist, and my experience and work is worthy of being equal to the experience and work of male artists.

In your own experience, do your think that the influence of women in contemporary art is increasing?

This exhibition at the MEAM was a call to attention of women thanks to the generosity of the director Jose Manuel Infiesta and his staff who have made it possible to show the public the reality of the works at. MEAM. Many female professional artists who work today still feel the need to defend the validity of their work.

What do you feel is significance of this particular exhibition?

This exhibition has enriched me and has strengthened my creativity, giving me an extra push to continue to create an outstanding works of art.

Estela, oil on board, 65x46 cm

When asked about their personal experience of being a part of this show, the artists agreed that MEAM is a very important institution in the promotion of the best contemporary figurative art and to be selected to exhibit there is a great honour.

For some artists, it is a dream come true indeed. In their opinion, the museum is doing a great job for figurative art and artists. They appreciate that initiatives like this one are scarce and praise the director José Manuel Infiesta, who is devoted to art, for offering a great opportunity to both well-known and unknown figurative artists.

The artists feel stronger together with the support from MEAM, and feel that their individual image has been greatly reinforced.

On the question whether they would like to see more all- female shows at MEAM, the answers were somewhat divided. Although everyone considered such exhibitions to be a necessary platform to encourage emerging female artists, some expressed the hope that in the nearby future there will be no need for such initiative.

In an ideal world gender should not form the basis for selection for an exhibition, and that more of female presence in each and every one of the exhibitions would be a rule, not the exception.

So, how important are all-female exhibitions today?

Reading the answers the artists provided, I could see a common thread: these women certainly have had very particular life experiences. There is an intimacy in their work and they have a very valuable message that they want to communicate.

While some artists are ambivalent about being viewed through the lens of gender, we are seeing that women artists are making definite, strong strides in the world of art that has been ruled by men for centuries. It will be a while before the numbers turn significantly in favor of the women artists, but it is important to note that female artists are certainly consider themselves to be a force to reckon with.

The exhibiting artists are:

Maria José Cortés Antequera, Marta de Olano, Macu Jordá, Carmen Mansilla, Arantzazu Martínez, Laura Rios, Virginia Bersabe, Amaya Corbacho, Irene Cuadrado, Miriam Escofet, Leonor Solans, Julia Santa Olalla, Sofia Zuluaga, Olga Esther, Marta Zapirain, Natalia Nombela, Almudena Mahiques, Isabel Garmon, Susana Ragel, Rosa Diaz, Laura Cameo, Margarita Cuesta, Josefa Medina, Lita Cabellut and a special mention for Soledad Fernández. As for the sculptors, Teresa Guerrero, Mer Jimenez, Patricia Riveras, Ana Rosenzweig, Cristina Sintes, Laia Pla, Rebeca Sánchez, Marta Moreu, María Iglesias Carbonell, Nuria Torras, Marta Solsona and Inmaculada Jordá.

Mujeres artistas hoy

https://www.meam.es/