Surface Work: Victoria Miro celebrates abstract women painters

Both London galleries are devoted to a century of female artists working with abstraction

Idriss, oil on wood panel, by Mary Heilmann, 2012
Idriss, oil on wood panel, by Mary Heilmann, 2012 | Image: © Mary Heilmann. Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth, Zurich and 303 Gallery, New York

The current trend dominating the art market is the rediscovery and repositioning of female artists as central to the canon of art. It is timely that Victoria Miro, a gallerist known for her prescient taste in painters, is creating a selling exhibition (prices on application) across both of her London galleries that is devoted to a century of female artists working with abstraction. From Europe to the Middle East, South America to Asia, this impressive exhibition of more than 50 international artists is museum worthy. It demonstrates how women have been central to the development of the dialogue around the abstract – the 20th century’s most defining change in visual culture.

Non-Objective Composition by Liubov Popova, c1920
Non-Objective Composition by Liubov Popova, c1920 | Image: Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art
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The exhibition’s title, Surface Work, was taken from a quote by American painter Joan Mitchell, whose rhythmic gestural work is on show. She stated in a 1986 interview, “Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work.” The show raises questions around emotions, politics, science, the spiritual and movement. What makes abstraction so interesting is how there is so much variety and breadth – from the geometric, politically motivated works by Russian constructivist Liubov Popova to vibrant colourful canvases of Alma Thomas, the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum.

 Winter Figure with Black Overhead, oil on sized primed canvas, by Helen Frankenthaler, 1959
Winter Figure with Black Overhead, oil on sized primed canvas, by Helen Frankenthaler, 1959 | Image: Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018. Photography by Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian
Azulejão (Moon), oil and plaster on canvas, by Adriana Varejão, 2018
Azulejão (Moon), oil and plaster on canvas, by Adriana Varejão, 2018 | Image: © Adriana Varejão
, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London / Venice. Photo: Jaime Acioli

There are very well known artists on display, including American abstract expressionist icons Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler, Brazilian modernist pioneer Lygia Clark, and Yayoi Kusama, who will be displaying some of her infinity net paintings. Yet even for the most eager art enthusiasts, there are discoveries to be made among this list of international, cross-generational artists – such as Hedda Sterne, a Romanian artist living in New York in the 1940s, who created surrealist architectural environments; or younger emerging names like Jessica Warboys, Annie Morris and Dala Nasser, who all explore the use of pigment and materials in profoundly different ways. From Bharti Kher to Elizabeth Neel, Etel Adnan to Tomie Ohtake, this inspirational show takes a considered approach to changing how we think of art itself.

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