Female artists’ work has always had power, but it’s too often been an unheralded power, dismissed by the gatekeepers of America’s cultural institutions.
Those days are gone. The powerful art created by women is now surging through the art world, upending old hierarchies, redefining “women’s work.” This change has been driven by the determination of generations of female artists who’ve never been content to be shunted aside. Through cultural and political activism, and with unyielding commitment to their art, female artists have insisted their work be included in the narrative of art history.
Today, the contribution of female artists is finally being acknowledged. Their originality of vision, concepts and styles are at last recognized as the innovations they have always been. As a result, the work of female artists now commands the culture’s attention, and their art is highly sought by museums and galleries, and actively pursued by collectors.
Faith Ringgold, American People Series #20; Die
In its earliest days in the 1930s, ACA Galleries was one of the few venues to exhibit art by women. In the cultural environment of the time and through most of the remainder of the twentieth century, influential critics and other tastemakers often ignored exhibitions of art created by women.
ACA dismissed these snubs as irrelevant to their mission: to nurture and exhibit work by artists of talent and with something of substance to say regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or class. Art by women exhibited by ACA has since found its place in major museums and private collections in the United States and abroad. The gallery continues to exhibit work generated by women and can recommend these twelve artists—established and emerging—as artists to watch in the art market.
The life and work of Abstract Expressionist Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) is a testament to the determined attitude required of a woman in the male dominated art world of post-World War II New York. But the strength of her will, the brilliance of Hartigan’s paintings, and her originality in including figurative and external-world elements in Abstract Expressionism’s interior emotional vocabulary prevailed, and her work eventually attracted serious attention. In 1956 she was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s career-making show, “Twelve Americans,” and in 1958 the museum selected her work for its seminal “New American Painting” exhibition. In 1960 Hartigan married a Baltimore doctor and decamped to that city, where she continued her investigations into Abstract Expressionism. Hartigan was honored by the Maryland Institute College of Art with a graduate program, the Hoffberger School of Painting, built around her practice. Today, Hartigan’s work is highly sought, and is represented in major museums and private collections around the world.
Faith Ringgold, American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding, 1967
In 1970, Faith Ringgold (born 1930) was among the leaders of the Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee’s protest against the Whitney Museum for their lack of female artists in that year’s Sculpture Annual. The Whitney eventually acquiesced to the committee’s demands and increased the number of works by women in the show. Ringgold’s gender, however, wasn’t her only obstacle to advancement. As an African-American female, she faced additional discrimination based on race. But Ringgold’s commitment to create art expressing the experience of women, and African-American women in particular, never wavered. A painter, sculptor, illustrator and author, Ringgold achieved acclaim for her searing narratives of the black female experience, notably in her iconic Story Quilts, now considered a masterpiece of visual narrative. Today, Faith Ringgold’s work is represented in major museums and collections throughout the world.
Judy Chicago, The Creation, 1984
The female centric oeuvre of Judy Chicago (born 1939) has challenged the status quo since the 1970s, when Chicago and Miriam Schapiro co-founded the Feminist Art Program at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. The Program’s Womanhouse exhibition in 1972 was a watershed moment in creating awareness of women’s art making ambitions and abilities. Chicago’s work continues to express women’s sexuality, intellect, and the female place not just in the world but also in the history of the world, most notably in “The Dinner Party,” a monumental installation executed between 1974 and 1979. Maintaining her concentration on female gender experiences, in 1980 Chicago began work on “The Birth Project” with images created in needlework. Chicago’s paintings, drawings, ceramics, and work in various media are regularly exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world.
German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) spent a lifetime depicting the hardships of human existence, particularly those suffered by women. Having lost one of her sons in World War One, Kollwitz was attuned to maternal suffering. She was also an activist for social justice and workers’ rights, and themes of women’s suffering and social justice inform her artwork. Fiercely opposed to Hitler, the Nazis retaliated by removing Kollwitz’s art from Germany’s museums and forbade her to exhibit at all. After the war, Kollwitz continued her motifs of maternal hardship and social justice, working primarily in drawings and widely reproduced prints, per Kollwitz’s commitment to make art affordable to the working classes. Today, Kollwitz is considered a major figure in the history of art, and her work is included in the world’s most important public and private collections.
Kathe Kollwitz, Dying Child
The work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) speaks of female triumph over physical and emotional pain: physical pain from childhood polio and a near-fatal bus accident as a teenager; emotional pain from her two turbulent marriages to artist Diego Rivera and her affairs with men and women. These dramas power Kahlo’s self-portraits, their themes of pain and loneliness woven into questions of her place in Mexican culture. A product of European and indigenous Mexican heritage, Kahlo’s self-portraits electrify with visual clues (European or indigenous tribal clothing, Mexican jungle flora and fauna, etc.) either intertwined or in conflict through her use of bold color. Though Kahlo’s bohemian and outré sexual life has been fodder for popular books and films, these iterations have not overshadowed the force of her art. Her work is among the most sought after today.
Frida Kahlo, My Doll and I
Lee Krasner, Night Creatures, 1965
The career of Lee Krasner (1908-1984) is the familiar story of a brilliant woman overshadowed by a famous husband, Abstract Expressionist icon Jackson Pollock. But Krasner’s genius could not be forever denied, and today she is regarded as not just a brilliant painter in her own right but as an indisputable influence on Pollock. It was Krasner, in the 1940s and early 1950s, who filled her canvases with all-over abstractions, directly influencing Pollock’s drip paintings. Krasner’s Abstract Expressionism was marked by strong line and aggressive shape, hallmarks she maintained even as she experimented with collage in the 1950s and large canvases of bold color in the 1960s. Her work bursts with emotional and artistic risk. Honoring her place in art history, Lee Krasner is among the very few women given a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Georgia O’Keefe, Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue, 1931
Another famous husband playing a significant role in the career of his artist wife was Alfred Stieglitz. But rather than overshadow Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986), Stieglitz championed her work. O’Keefe’s early Precisionist paintings transmit the power and energy of 1920s New York, while her subsequent paintings of the southwest American desert capture that environment’s hard beauty. Though she left New York City behind, O’Keefe didn’t abandon Modernism, using Modernism’s hard lines, simplified forms, broad areas of color and flat planes to reveal nature’s secretive forces. Her images of flora have been called sensual and erotic, while her paintings of the bones and skulls of desert animals are fearless depictions of nature’s harsh but beautiful reality. O’Keefe is one of the few women to have a museum dedicated solely to her work, The Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Taos, New Mexico.
Irene Rice-Pereira, Untitled, 1944
ACA Galleries began exhibiting the paintings of Irene Rice Pereira (1902-1971) in their earliest days in the 1930s. An adherent of Bauhaus principles, Pereira considered her work experiments in the relationship between two-dimensional art and the industrial arts of architecture, design and typography. She further believed that abstract, Modernist art served a social function, a way of understanding the relationship of society to the industrial design and technology it created. Beginning with semi-abstract industrial imagery, by the late 1930s Pereira’s canvases were completely abstract, their industrial and design references ascendant. She explored the use of non-traditional materials such as glass and plastic in her canvases, and in 1946, she experimented with radium paint, giving her paintings an after-image effect when in low light or unlit rooms. A lifelong innovator, Pereira’s work continues to be exhibited and collected worldwide.
Philomena Morano, This Way Out, 1987
Philomena Marano (born 1952) works in the elegant medium of papier collé, building layers of precisely cut color aid paper to create imagery, which delights the eye and soul. Acclaimed for her effervescent series “American Dream-Land,” depicting Coney Island’s amusement rides, sideshows, and sweet treats, Marano’s imagery brings our joys, thrills, and titillated fears up from our deepest recesses and into the front of our consciousness. In addition to “American Dream-Land,” Marano’s oeuvre interprets the urban environment through the sensibilities of a woman who loves the grittier side of its personality; its tire shops, streets and alleyways. Now living Florida, Marano continues her papier collé practice, exchanging the color of Coney Island for the exoticism of the tropics. Critical attention for Marano’s work remains strong, and market demand is on the rise.
The creative force of memory, the African concept of Sankofa, is at the heart of the work of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (1940-2015). Robinson uses materials which inspire or reference memories, both personal and cultural: buttons and cloth used by her mother; a mixture of mud, animal grease, twigs, clay and glue which her father called “Hogmawg;” and scraps retrieved from friends and neighbors. Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Robinson travelled widely in the Middle East and Africa, immersing herself in the cultures of her African-American heritage and documenting the people and their customs. The visual and emotional power of her constructions was thus born of the twin pursuits of cultural immersion and female memory. An artist of exceptional gifts, Robinson has been honored with numerous awards (including the McCarthy Genius Award), and her work is pursued by curators and collectors alike.
The life of Alice Neel (1900-1984) alternated between triumph and tragedy, happiness and heartbreaking loss, particularly the disintegration of her marriage to Cuban artist Carlos Enriquez and the death of their infant daughter. From the 1930s through the rest of her life, Neel took what she needed from Modernism but never joined the Modernist ranks of abstraction. Remaining true to figurative imagery, Neel’s portraits of artist friends, political activists, mothers and children, and most poignantly, pregnant women, feature strong lines, deep emotional insight, and a melancholy Neel could never quite escape. The power of her paintings, though, is not in their sadness, but in her subjects’—and Neel’s—will to live and create.
Lois Mailou Jones, Panorama of Grasse, France, 1952
Like all female artists of color, Loïs Mailou Jones (1905-1988) faced the double prejudice of being female and black. But Jones was fortunate to be an artist during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, when African-Americans created a vibrant culture admired even by white America. In the 1930s, with the onset of the Great Depression and the goodwill toward African-American artists dissipating back into the old bigotry, Jones travelled to Paris, becoming part of the city’s ex-patriot Avant-garde. Jones’ paintings take African and Caribbean motifs as their starting point, but merges those motifs with the energy of Europe’s Modernism. Her canvases sizzle with African and Caribbean color, often with Cubist construction, post-Impressionism’s influence, and elements of graphic design composition. Today, Jones’ work is represented in America’s most distinguished institutional and private collections.
Respect for the work of female artists is on the upswing, reflecting the new awareness of women’s contributions to American art. The work of these twelve artists is among the most desirable in the current market, and ACA Galleries is positioned to assist interested parties and prospective buyers with information regarding acquisition and investment.
Courtesy Ann Aptaker, ACA Galleries