When Frieze Masters launched its Spotlight section in 2015, it gave the fair the opportunity to challenge stagnant conceptions of who the greatest artists of the 20th century were by showcasing the work of lesser-known modern and contemporary figures. This year’s section will do so by focusing on 29 female artists born between 1900 and 1951. This, according to curator Camille Morineau, will reinsert them into the styles and movements they helped shape but have long been excluded from. .
“What we show in Spotlight is not representative of the history of women in general at this time,” says Morineau, founder and research director of Aware (Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions), based in Paris. . “We wanted to show relatively unknown artists in Spotlight in Frieze. We could have chosen many more accessible or visible artists.
The 20th century is interesting for women artists, she says, because there are many sources of information, even about underrated artists. “You [can] connect the dots and see that in every avant-garde, in every movement, there have been women artists – mostly unknown and under-recognized – but you find that trace and you can rewrite history.
Since 2014, Aware has taken an active role in connecting these dots by providing accessible information about 19th and 20th century women artists on its extensive online platform, including articles, videos, biographies and more. The impetus for the organization came from the challenges Morineau faced while curating the 2009-11 collection [email protected] exhibition highlighting female artists from the Center Pompidou collection. (She also held exhibitions there on Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter and Roy Lichtenstein.)
“I had the work in storage and I could feel that they were strong works and I could hang them in the room, but then you have to provide information to visitors,” says Morineau, who was curator of the contemporary collections at the Center Pompidou. for 10 years. “I couldn’t find this information at the time, so I needed a website like Aware. I created it so that people could access the information, decide whether to show the work either in the gallery or in the museum, or acquire the work or write about the work.
These efforts are relevant to the market as well as to the archive: Morineau explains that as more information becomes available about an artist, their work tends to sell more easily and at a higher price. More information will also reinforce the low representation of women at auction: women made up 18% of artists and just 8% of sales in four months in 2021 at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, according to an analysis by Artnews.
“[Galleries] need new names,” says Morineau. “They study historical artists and what they find in terms of recent research are mostly female artists. . . They show them and the reason they can show them is to find collectors for them. These collectors can be both private and institutional who want a better gender balance within their holdings.
Morineau and the team at Aware took an intersectional approach to Spotlight, bringing together artists from around the world and across all mediums. Three main themes emerged as the plans for the section coalesced: abstraction, politics, and post-surrealism. “In all of these groups, you have different generations of artists,” Morineau explains. “This is how we work within the association, working on a diversity of techniques, generations and movements. We wanted to transmit this diversity in the course of the section.
Notable abstract artists include Vivian Springford (Almine Rech) and Fahrelnissa Zeid (Dirimart). Zeid, who was also an Iraqi princess of Turkish descent, is one of the best-known names in the group and had a retrospective at Tate Modern in 2017. Her auction record was set the same year when a of his large geometric paintings sold for £990,000, well above estimate. Visitors to Spotlight will have a varied introduction to his bold paintings that marry cubist and expressionist strokes – some bright and some dark.
Springford came from the second generation of abstract expressionists, a movement that Mary Gabriel revisited in her 2018 book Ninth Street Women reintegrate the pioneering women who were at its head. Springford’s Spotlight presentation showcases the tinted paint style she began to develop in the early 1960s, with delicate circles that blend into each other and demonstrate her mastery of color.
Policy work covers topics ranging from feminism to issues surrounding leadership and violence. Morineau is keen, driven by current events, to include a representation of artists from Central and Eastern Europe. “After World War II, there were a lot of wars in Eastern Europe and tensions with Russia,” she says. “In the context of the war in Ukraine, we wanted to be aware of that.”
Orshi Drozdik, a Hungarian conceptual artist, will exhibit a mix of painting, drawing and photography at Einspach Fine Art & Photography. The artist often explores issues of gender identity in her multidisciplinary practice, and in Individual mythology (1975-77) series, she works to represent herself as a woman and an artist on her own terms rather than through male-oriented structures. In photographs and sketches that incorporate performance elements, Drozdik captures himself dancing and moving freely through works. Both model and artist, she claims the agency denied to many female models throughout art history.
The third group includes artists working in or around post-surrealism, and also includes a presentation by Argentinian painter Leonor Fini (Loeve & Co), who was part of the original Surrealist cohort. Fini’s work fetched a career-high $2.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2021 – an otherwise impressive sum until you realize that paintings by his friend and contemporary Giorgio de Chirico have fetched prices in excess of $15 million.
From the latest generation of artists working in this style, viewers may find Ljiljana Blaževska an exciting find in Alison Jacques. His painting ‘Slika’ (c1985/1991) depicts an eerie scene with otherworldly figures staring at the picture plane against a textured cityscape – the work stylistically could fall between that of Joan Miró and Leonora Carrington.
Ongoing research and presentations highlighting female artists are essential in the long work to inscribe these figures into the canon of art. There are indications that this effort has progressed in recent years – four women received Golden Lions at this year’s Venice Biennale, for example – but more needs to be done.
“The second step would be to go beyond the biographies, and relate [these artists] to the movements to which they belong,” says Morineau. Doing that, art historically, takes a lot of research, but once it’s done, “all of these movements, like Pop or Cubism, will be completely different.”
October 12-16, frieze.com