Image above: Drawing by Tracey Emin
Guest blog by Madeleine White, Head of Urban & Contemporary art at Chiswick Auctions
Ahead of Women’s History Month in March, Chiswick Auctions presents an auction of Urban & Contemporary Art (Thursday 24 February), which features incredible women artists such as Tracey Emin, Yayoi Kusama, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. Here, we take a closer look at these four prominent women who feature in our sale.
Recently, there have been several pinnacle moments in the history of art pertaining to female artists. For example, 2021 marked the inaugural ‘(Women) Artists’ auction at Sotheby’s which featured an outstanding collection of 63 works across 400 years, all by female artists.
Later this year, Sonia Boyce will be the first black female artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale. In 2018 she said “it was very clear when I was at art college that I was somehow out of place; the system hadn’t anticipated me or anyone like me. Even though there were a lot of female students, they were thought about as though they were being trained to become the wives of artists, not artists themselves.”
Do we need to define an artist by their gender? It could be said that for female artists to be considered truly equal, they need to stop being referred to with a gendered qualifier preceding the definition of artist. On the other hand, by highlighting and making visible these artists and their achievements, we are drawing attention to this disparity, and helping to inspire and bring attention to other women and their work.
Chiswick Auctions is offering thirteen works by Emin.
Highly acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin came to prominence as one of the YBAs (Young British Artists) and has certainly set a precedent for women artists through the success of her fearless and unapologetic approach to creating art.
The variety of media with which she works – painting, drawing, film, photography, sewn appliqué, sculpture, neon – provide highly personalised vessels for her singular voice. The genres of self-portraiture and the nude run throughout her oeuvre, referencing her family, childhood, relationships, pregnancies and abortions, in a manner that is neither tragic nor sentimental and which resonate deeply with the audience.
Tracey Emin published her first lithograph in 1986. Since then, printmaking has been a key medium and a consistent presence in her work. The intimacy and immediacy of working on paper allows Emin to express her innermost thoughts, fantasies and memories.
These vulnerable works frequently depict nudes, often herself. Similar to a visual stream of consciousness, her prints give direct insight into her emotional world, provide an unequivocal rawness and often include snippets of profound text. Additionally, the titles of her prints reveal and give something away of the figure’s turmoil.
Another artist that utilises text in her work is the American neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer.
Holzer began creating her best known works, ‘Truisms’, in 1977, when she was a student in an independent study program. She hand-typed numerous ‘one liners’ by taking words from a course reading list. Like other artists of her generation, Holzer turned to the strategies of mass media and advertising in her work.
In 1982 she blazed these messages across a giant advertising hoarding in Times Square, New York. The Truisms are deliberately challenging, presenting a spectrum of often contradictory opinions. Holzer hoped they would sharpen people’s awareness of the “usual baloney they are fed” in daily life and provoke a reaction that might lead to change or further discussion.
Barbara Kruger is another such artist, known for using punchy text in her pieces. Personal pronouns like ‘you’ and ‘I’ are staples of Kruger’s practice, bringing the viewer into each piece.
“Direct address has motored my work from the very beginning”, Kruger has said. “I like it because it cuts through the grease.”
Kruger’s work prompts us to interrogate our own positions; in the artist’s words, “to question and change the systems that contain us.’” She demands that we consider how our identities are formed within culture, through representation in language and image.
In 1979, Kruger developed her signature style using large-scale black-and-white images overlaid with text. She repurposed found images, juxtaposing them with short, pithy phrases printed in Futura Bold or Helvetica Extra Bold typeface in black, white, or red text bars.
Yayoi Kusama also uses repetition in her work, although rather than text, dots or other repeated images provide a sense of all consuming infinity. Kusama is often described as the most successful female artist alive today.
As a young, aspiring artist, Kusama greatly admired another brilliant artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, writing, ‘I’m only on the first step of the long difficult life of being a painter. Will you kindly show me the way?’ she asked. O’Keeffe advised Kusama to come to America and show her work to as many people as she could.
Painting was both an outlet and an act of rebellion for Kusama when she was a child. Her mother told her she was not allowed to paint and frequently confiscated her inks and canvases, which might explain her obsessive creative drive. Her mother also made her spy on her father, who had repeated affairs. Her ‘penis chairs’, as she calls them, and other sculptures coated in phalluses, may stem from a fear of sex: indeed, she describes herself as asexual.
For a show in New York in 1963 she covered a rowing boat with phalluses and wallpapered the room with repeated identical photocopies of the image. She later accused Andy Warhol, whom she considered a good friend, of stealing her ideas. Warhol used wallpaper at a show in 1966, a repeating vibrant screen print of a cow, and again in later shows.
The works depicted above by Emin, Holzer, Kruger and Kusama, are up for auction on Thursday 24 February at 2pm. This live auction will be broadcast on our website where you are welcome to bid.
If you have any questions about the auction or require any additional information, please contact Madeleine White, Head of Urban & Contemporary art who will be happy to assist.
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