Recalling the work of over 200 artists who have been active in the last half a century, Liz Rideal (an acclaimed artist herself) and Kathleen Soriano (an independent curator and chair of the Liverpool Biennial) examine the different ways that the female-on-female gaze has been explored through contemporary practice; from traditional portraiture to surrealist sculpture.
The authors have tasked themselves with specific parameters in order to build their narrative framework. For example, there were to be no images of men, and strictly one piece per artist, which has resulted in some lesser-known, compelling works being brought to the fore. These include Birgit Jürgenssen’s abstracted photo of a hosiery-clad bottom resting on high heels; a stunning sculpture by Dorothea Tanning, which depicts a cowering modernist figure chained to a post; and a surreal piece by Alina Szapocznikow that seems to present a molten breast as some form of horrific ice cream.
The book is separated into distinct chapters, exploring universal themes of “Body”, “Life”, “Story”, “Death” and “Icons”, with the penultimate section offering up compelling pieces that grapple with dark subjects such as cancer (Jo Spence), abortion (Paula Rego) and murder (Rosalyn Drexler). Throughout the text, there are also plenty of nods to canonical art history, including Rosemarie Trockel’s Replace Me, which recalls Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World; Katarzyna Kozyra’s reworking of Manet’s Olympia; and Maud Sulter’s portraits which reimagine George Frederick Watts’s Hall of Fame series.
Rideal and Soriano also offer a foregrounding historical overview, which begins in the 1500s. It highlights some of the most prominent female artists through this larger expanse of time, many of whom found success before sacrificing their craft due to marriage and societal constraints. Others were acclaimed in their lifetime, before being airbrushed out of history. Key mentions include Artemisia Gentileschi, an exquisite Baroque painter; Vivian Maier, the mysterious American street photographer whose prolific body of work was discovered after her death; and Laura Knight, the first woman ever to be elected to the Royal Academy.
Madam & Eve: Women Portraying Women by Liz Rideal and Kathleen Soriano
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