Sam Francis

Untitled, 1984

106.7 X 73 inch


« previous

The Urban Clusters and Pop Wastelands of the New British Scu...

next »

David Hockney: The visionary contemplations of an elusive ma...

10 Women in 20th Century Art

10 Women in 20th Century Art

By Andrew Bay, UK

Painting, film making, performance art and sculpture are only a few of the disciplines in which some incredibly talented women have been major contributors to the fine arts during the last 100 years. They have attracted an enormous amount of interest from art historians, critics and buyers. We have profiled a selection of these artists in the following list, to showcase this often overlooked trend in the art world, which deserves our full attention.

As a teenager growing up in Milan, Vanessa Beecroft suffered from a series of debilitating eating disorders. This affliction, coupled with addiction was the subject of her graduation degree show which she produced at the Milan Art Academy in 1993, at the age of 24. The success of the performance immediately positioned her as a key performance artist and an invitation from New York-based art dealer Jeffrey Deitch quickly followed. The emphasis of Beecroft's work has been centered around living body art and the exploration of nudity and voyeurism as catalysts in social power dynamics. She has also  built a a unique relationship with media celebrities in the fashion and music industry, such as rapper Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, as well as Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton. Her powerful installations are featured, among other places, at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Eindhoven Museum of Art in the Netherlands.

By using polaroid photographs as her primary template, Marlene Dumas has tackled complex themes of sexual desire, eroticism and political identity, in a career spanning the better part of 35 years. Born and raised in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa, in a well-to-do Dutch Afrikans family, Dumas studied art at the University of Amsterdam from 1975 to 1978 and has been living in the Dutch capital ever since. Her photographic work has been focussed on the nature of emotional and libidinal intimacy, with open references to erotic magazines and literature. Thick layered brushstrokes are  characteristic of her paintings and portraits, which carefully evoke fleeting memories of friends, close and distant relatives, caught in their everyday existence. Dumas' photographic narratives on the other hand, articulate a sustained commentary on contemporary culture and events, depicting a vast array of subjects, ranging from media celebrities to historical figures. Dumas is now a professor at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands and her work is being curated by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.   

Born into a wealthy New York family in 1928, Helen Frankenthaler, was a groundbreaking innovator in the 1950s American Abstract Expressionists movement. She initially explored thick blocks of colour, single stains backgrounds and opaque canvases to develop her brash and innovative style. She immediately paved the way for a  cohort of followers, such as Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, who unabashedly admired her pioneering style, which had been inspired by none other than Jackson Pollock. She subsequently further developed her own non-representational techniques, emphasizing linearity, the exploration of non-negative spaces and the use of woodcut prints and lithographies. She received the American National Medal of Arts in 2001 and her work is exhibited in several private collections, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of Art in New York.   

Canadian-born Agnes Martin moved to the US in 1931 at the age of 19. She  discovered Abstract Expressionism, which she would become a major exponent of , in 1942, whilst studying Modern Art at New York University. Upon graduation  she informally joined a creative community which included Jasper Johns, Barnett Newman and art dealer Arne Glimcher. It is  during that productive period that she developed the key aspects of her unique style: geometric lines and sketching, which were inspired by the barren landscapes of her rural upbringing in Western Canada; ink drawings and watercolours ; layered farmer fields paintings and desert landscapes from New Mexico. With a lifelong interest in Buddhism, Martin shared her life between her loft in New York and New Mexico, where she produced most of her work which is now owned by private collections at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City and the Centre George Pompidou in Paris.    

Psychoanalysis, materialism and feminism are a few of the topics which Louise Bourgeois investigated in her sensational artistic career. She is perhaps most immediately connected to her fabulous 3D spider installations, captured for posterity in works such as "The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine." But she also produced great paintings and sculptures, thrived as a printmaker, published books and excelled as a documentary film-maker. The multi-faceted, exploratory nature of her work enabled her to delve into the ramifications of key XX century artistic movements such as Abstract Expressionism or Feminism, without ever being totally merged into them. The daughter of Paris-based art dealers, Bourgeois is often regraded as the most important sculptors of the XX century and produced work during a period of 70 years, breaking attendance and sales records all over the world, with works exhibited and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Centre George Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Museum in London.

Along with her infamous associates from the Young British Artists, Tracey Emin became an art world sensation in the mid 1990s, with her distinctive approach to conceptual installations, films and sculptures. She  has refined an idiosyncratic designer's viewpoint to create conceptual art, which simultaneously supports boldness and confessional sentimentality.

Trained at the Royal College of Art in 1990, she disclosed deeply personal episodes of her life to produce ground-breaking works such as "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995" or "You Loved Me Like a Disaster." Her works has been exhibited in such prestigious institutions as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Gallery in London. Emin was elected to the British Royal Academy of Arts in 2011 and lives in East London.

With a collection of 69 photographs, in which she attempted to recreate salient stereotypes about women which she felt were pervasive in pop culture, Cindy Sherman took the art world by storm in 1980. The series was  called "Untitled Film Stills," and by using various combinations of settings, costumes and lightings, she composed an ambiguous interpretation of classical realism, effortlessly borrowing from American cinema and paintings from the 1940s and 1950s. Over the following decades, Sherman has pursued her exploration of feminism and gender politics in modern American society. Her pictures evoke a wide range of unruly stylistic combinations, from burlesque costumes to misshapen imagery, from digital editing to distorted cibachrome camera shots. Sherman has had multiple exhibitions across the most prestigious galleries around the world and was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship Endowment in 1995. 

American artist Barbara Kruger gained importance in the early 1980s for fine arts prints which combined black and white pictures, with daring and inventive textual narratives. Her most iconic works give prominence to ironic and serious slogans in bold white fonts such as: "The Future belongs to those who can see it." or "I shop therefore I am". Against regular red background boxes that counterbalance her encrypted imagery, she fearlessly borrows from the publishing industry magazines and other communication networks to channel her oblique critiques on consumerism and popular culture. With prestigious exhibitions at the Venice Bienniale, the Whitney Museum and the Documenta exhibitions in Germany over the years, Kruger has developed a unique ability to create sharp social commentary and observations. Her unique approach has seeped through our collective consciousness, by taking shape on innumerable cards, magazine covers and billboards across the publishing world.

In 1963, Yayoi Kusama started a series of groundbreaking installations which have captured the imagination of audiences the world over, her remarkable "Infinity Mirror Rooms." These stand-alone installations rooms, feature a tapestry of glass mirrored balls, combined. in such a way as to create the illusion of an infinite space of polka dots and lights.

Born in Tokyo to a wealthy family in 1929, she moved to the United States by the 1950s and quickly became a key figure in the the New York avant-garde art scene. Her work has been considerably influential in the Pop Art movement and featured in significant exhibitions at the MoMA in New York and the Tate Modern in London. Over the span of 35 years her art practice has led her to delve into such themes as mental disorder, sexual hallucinations, self-obliteration and infinite surroundings. Although she is now recognised as one of the most influential living pop artists, Kusama  has been living in a Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Tokyo since 1977.

Marina Abramović undoubtedly is, one of the better-known performance artist of our time. She explores manifold themes such as the nature of space and time, the entanglements of the human condition, and existential uncertainty. Throughout her career, she has resolutely attempted to redefine the limits of the dialogue which she believes, ought to take place between the work of art and an audience. She had major exhibitions over the years at world-renowned contemporary art festivals such as Documenta (1982 and 1992), the Venice Biennale (1997), and she will be headlining the London Frieze Art Fair in October 2022. Abramovic, lived and collaborated with German artist and photographer  Uwe Laysiepen (also known as Ulay) from 1975 to 1988. They staged a dramatic end to their relationship, by walking across the Great Wall of China from opposite end of its borders, meeting in the middle to simply say "Goodbye" to each other. Her career has mainly been pursued as a solo performer since, relentlessly challenging audiences the world over, to explore their own emotional reactions and responses to her  increasingly staged and original performances.

Related Artworks You
Might Like

Eva Claessens

Untitled 6, 2021

Limited Edition Print

Mixed Media

USD 550

Diana Thater

CAT A IS, 1996

Limited Edition Print

Digital print on canvas

USD 4,500

Helen Frankenthaler

Aerie, 2009

Limited Edition Print


USD 25,900