In the second part of this little series I want to talk about women who worked and work as sculptors throughout the past century...
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
… and how could I possibly do this without mentioning Louise Bourgeois?
When she started out in the 40s, it was hard for women to assert themselves on the art marked. In one interview Bourgeois remembers that this circumstance was in fact not because of men, but because of the art scene being financially run by wealthy women who payed more attention to male artists. Yet for Bourgeois this led to the happy coincidence that she could work for herself for several years, and establish her own unique style. Aside from that, she was also engaged in various political actions involving calling out the imbalance of male and female artists bought and exhibited by big museums.
In the 80s and early 90s she had her international breakthrough, exhibiting at the Biennale in Venice, and documenta. She was one of the first female artists to work with installations. Her so called Cells are enclosed rooms filled with objects carrying autobiographical meaning. Love and hate, male and female, dependence and rebellion, and the always underlying need for her to proof worthy. In this, Bourgeois’ work did its part to include feminism and psychoanalysis in the discourse of art and establishing a vocabulary that is still relevant today.
Sarah Lucas (born 1962)
“A rude woman is really what we need right now.”
What Sarah Lucas says about herself already reveals one of the strengths of her work: An unrelentingly challenging attitude. The artist that was an original member of Damien Hirst’s group Young British Artists (Y.B.A.s) founded in 1988. In the first years, similar to Bourgeois’ experiences, the male members got the most attention. But Lucas didn’t mind; she rather felt free being able to experiment as the pleased. Reading the feminist Andrea Dworkin, she realized how the whole system, not just in the art world, was laid out to be against women. Since then, she specialised in rudeness. Her work is raw, plays with sexuality, the body and its impulses. She uses familiar, oftentimes cheap materials like toilets, furniture, underwear or cans. Even fruits, vegetables and other foods, portraying body parts. “I like things to make sense to plebes like myself,” she observed. Her first gallery solo show “Penis Nailed to a Board” helped to quickly establish her in the scene.
In 2015 she represented Britain at the Venice Art Biennale. She never aimed to please any crowd with her work, and continues to explores the complexity of the human body gender and sexuality, as messy as it can be.
Lee Bul (born 1964)
Lee Bull, one of the most considerable Korean artists of her generation, was honored with her first solo exhibition Crash at Martin Gropius Bau in 2018, featuring a wide range of her innovative and intellectually provoking work. Growing up as the daughter of two left-wing activists in a time of turbulent social change under a military regime, she had to move house constantly since the police would regularly inspect the family-home for banned items. With this forced nomadism where the need for security was ever present, it comes as no surprise that much of Bul’s work centres around architecture. “I came to realise that growing up with leftist parents in a country that at the time did not approve of leftist ideas shaped me”, she remembered. In the 1980s she was one of the founders of Museum, a collective of female artists, performers, and musicians from the off-scene. Bul's early works question the understanding of “female” beauty, as well as women’s role in society tackling delicate issues like the - to this day - illegal abortion in Korea, positioning the artist as a radical social commentator.
In her works she influences from a host of Asian and western literature, pop culture, and news items, yet never really discussing what her art means.
Simone Leigh (born 1968)
Simone Leigh works in various media including sculpture, video installation and social practice; she includes African influences and vernacular objects, performance, and feminism. The roots for a lot of the motivation behind her art today can partly be found in the time she studied philosophy. During her studies she came to think about how traditional African art was displayed and categorized in Western museums today. Oftentimes no artist is mentioned and the works are merely labeled as art at all. Through her own art she now raises critical questions about the ideas behind race, culture, community, as well as the female body, and beauty in general. Different cultures, geographics and even time periods overlap in her art. The multilayered outcome tackles the marginalization of women of color and reframes their experience as central to society.
And all these thoughts and her determination show: Leigh is the first artist to be commissioned for the High Line Plinth, where she is presenting monumental sculpture since April 2019. Her work will also be featured in Loophole of Retreat, a major exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York to commemorate her achievements as the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize 2018, as well as the 2019 Whitney Biennial among many others.
Chiharu Shiota (born 1972)
Wool threats are Shiota’s trademark. With them, she spins a web around everyday objects like dresses, beds, shoes, keys, and sometimes even herself. The dress for example represents a sort of chosen skin we put on. Clothes function as both our representation and our connection to the outer world. In her labyrinths of memory, as you might call them, she also incorporates intangible things like memory, home, fear, birth, and death, saying more than she ever could with words.
Every single one of her installations is also quite literally connected to the building it is in. For her installation Beyond Memory at Martin Gropius Bau earlier this year, she used old drawings, books and floor plans of the building to integrate in the web, and in doing so telling the house’s past stories, preserving them from being forgotten in a diary without words.
Shiota started studying painting at Kyoto Seika University in Japan before she realised that form of making art didn’t fulfill her. Getting in contact with the medium of sculpture, she became aware that she could make art also with other materials, which opened up a new way of communicating for her, and helping her find her artistic voice.
Analia Saban (born 1980)
Saban often works with materials in ways that confuse or subvert their typical meaning or use, always being aware of the larger social or political implications of those materials. She works with various media from painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and architecture in a way that deconstructs and revisualizes not just the material itself, but the very process of art-making. In that sense, her Draped Marble sculptures show a piece of marble "hung" over a wooden rack in such a way that suddenly makes the rigid stone look like a soft wet cloth, completely transforming its materiality. When talking about the process of her work, the Argentinian artist who studied with John Baldessari once said that she never tries to force any kind of creative process, rather than letting herself be taken over by ideas.
Saban's work has been exhibited widely both nationally and internationally and is represented in the collections of, amongst others, the Hammer Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Norton Museum of Art in Florida, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She is also represented by the commercially succesfull gallery Sprüth Magers.
Isra Abdou (born 1995)
Isra Abdou is studying for her Bachelor in Fine Arts for teaching at UdK Berlin, and caught my attention at the latest work exhibition with an incredible piece: From afar it looks like a soft, golden almost silky material draped delicately on the floor. Only in stepping closer you realise that it's made out of innumerable pushpins pointing towards the spectator.
An earlier project of the young artist - REDA - shows women with see through headscarves, only suggesting concealment. With these photographs Abdou refer to a problem she and many other woman wearing a headscarf face: The involvement of other people; the scarf becomes meaningless, has no function, if how and if it is worn is enforced by external observers. Abdou has been called anti-feminism because of being a hijabi. In addition to that, she still experiences the dominance of Western men in the art world, as well as the marginalization of women, especially women of colour. She set out to use her art to empower others, not afraid to push socio-political boundaries.
Her dedication and talent won her the Anna-Oppermann-Preis 2019. We’re excited for what will be next for her!
Text by Stefanie Regina Dietzel