Just like many other realms of culture, the contemporary art scene is a greatly male dominated area. Today, we are trying to correct this by recognizing the work of ten female artists who are constantly breaking new ground with their work. What follows is our look at the work of contemporary female artists whose diversity of practices and contributions to the avant-garde movements of our time have been enormous, yet very often overlooked and underrecognized. Not only that these extraordinary women influenced the history of contemporary art, but they are, most certainly, going to shape its future. All of them opted to methodically explore the new reality of the art realm after the feminist movement.
If you’re a book collector, here’s our recommendation on one of the best volumes on the subject!
Editors’ Tip: After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art–Revised and Expanded Edition
After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art–Revised and Expanded Edition examines the rise of women artists in the late 20th century, viewed through the work of 12 key figures. Four prominent critics discuss the ways women artists have changed art since the first movements of feminism and assess the changes that have occurred in their critical reception, commercial appeal, and institutional support. Following a comprehensive essay that looks back at the recent history of women artists, the authors examine the careers of an international selection of artists–Marina Abramovic’, Louise Bourgeois, Ellen Gallagher, Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Elizabeth Murray, Shirin Neshat, Judy Pfaff, Dana Schutz, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, and Nancy Spero–considering each figure’s accomplishments and her influence on contemporaries and younger artists.
Marina Abramovic - Pioneer of Performance Art
We are going to start this list with one of the biggest names on the contemporary art scene. Marina Abramovic is a New York based performance artist whose work explores the relationship between the performer and the audience, limitations of the body and the vast possibilities of the mind. With a highly lucrative career, which spans over four decades, Abramovic has been rightfully described as the pioneer of performance art. In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective and performance recreation of Abramovic’s work, which stands as the biggest exhibition of performance art in the history of MoMA. During the exhibition, Abramovic performed ‘The Artist is Present’, a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which Marina Abramovic sat immobile in the atrium of the museum while audience members were invited to take turns sitting opposite her.
Cindy Sherman - Highly Provocative
Cindy Sherman (Cynthia Morris Sherman) is a renowned American contemporary artist, photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits that raise challenging questions about the role and representation of women in modern society. Sherman broke globally in the early 1980s when her series of 69 black and white photographs, titled ‘Untitled Film Stills’ achieved international recognition as the gems of feminist photography. The series consisted of photographs showing the artist posing in different roles and settings, resulting in images so powerfully reminiscent of film stills typical of Italian neorealism or American film noir. Sherman’s highly provocative work wonderfully incorporates various influences of feminism, performance art, as well as cultural criticism, and the body and identity politics.
Vanessa Beecroft - Existential Encounters Between the Models and the Audience
Vanessa Beecroft is a Los Angeles based Italian contemporary female artist, internationally recognized for her large scale performance art that addresses conceptual and aesthetic concerns, and often involves nude female models. Beecroft’s performances stand as existential encounters between the models and audience, which are successfully turned into separate, self sufficient pieces as Beecroft takes photographs and video recordings of her live performances. Each of Beecroft’s performances is created for a specific location and usually references the political, historical, or social associations of the place where it is held. Deceptively simple in its execution, the art of Vanessa Beecroft provokes questions around identity politics and voyeurism in the complex relationship between the viewer, model and the context.
Barbara Kruger - Exploring Gender and Identity
American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, considered to be part of the Pictures Generation, is widely known for her work consisting of monochrome photographs overlaid with slogans that deal with cultural constructions of power, identity and sexuality. Kruger initially started working as a designer and later moved on to work as a picture editor in several different publications. In her early years as a visual artist, Kruger crocheted, sewed and painted bright-hued and erotically suggestive objects, but later shifted her focus toward working with her own architectural photographs. Using the techniques of advertising and mass communication, Barbara Kruger addresses issues of language and signs, all in order to explore universal subjects of gender and identity.
Yayoi Kusama - Widely Acknowledged Voice of the Avant-Garde
Yayoi Kusama is a renowned Japanese artist and writer, internationally famous for her pattern art and repetition-based psychedelic art she creates using a wide array of media that includes painting, collage sculpture, installations and performance art. With an extraordinary career, spanning over seven decades, Yayoi Kusama is considered as a precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, whose works greatly influenced contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Although she has been almost completely forgotten after departing the New York art scene in the early 1970s, Kusama is today widely acknowledged as one of the most important Japanese contemporary artists, and an important voice of the avant-garde.
Tracey Emin - Sensual Art Inspired by Deep Emotions and Intimacy
Tracey Emin is a contemporary artist and one of the most prominent members of the Young British Artists group that creates deeply sensual artworks inspired by their own emotions and experiences. During her education at the Royal College of Art in London, Tracey Emin created a great number of paintings inspired by works of Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, which she later destroyed in a burst of fury. Emin successfully broke to fame in the late 1990s, when she gained a considerable media coverage for her installation ‘My Bed’, consisting of her own unmade bed, littered with used condoms and blood stained underwear. Since then, Emin has been creating drawings and neon installations that tell artist’s intimate stories of love, desire and rejection.
Nan Goldin - From Skylines and Landscapes to Themes of Drugs, Sex and Violence
Nancy Nan Goldin is an internationally acclaimed American contemporary artist from New York, famed for her exceptional work in photography. Since her first gallery exhibition in 1973, Goldin has been steadily gaining attention for her intensely personal and spontaneous photographs that deal with subjects of sexuality and gender. Following her graduation at the Boston/Tufts University in the late 1970s, Goldin moved to NYC where she started documenting the new wave music scene and the city’s vibrant gay and transsexual subculture. This is seen in her most famous series of photographs titled ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, which depicts drug use, violent couples, as well as autobiographical moments. Since the mid 1990s, Nan Goldin’s photographs shifted toward a wider array of subjects, including captivating NYC’s skylines, uncanny landscapes and intimate snapshots of her private life.
Isa Genzken - A Variety of Materials Inspired by Urban Space
Isa Genzken is a contemporary German artist from Berlin, widely known for her sculptures and installation art which employ various different materials, including bric-a-brac, concrete, wood, plaster and textile. She is also recognized for her works in photography, video, film and collage. Born in 1948 in Bad Oldesloe, Genzken studied fine arts and art history, before completing her studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the late 1970s, during which she was greatly influenced by Constructivism and Minimalism, styles and philosophies still seen in her works today. As part of her profound interest, which is deeply grounded in urban space, Isa Genzken arranges complex installations featuring mannequins, dolls, photographs, and a wide array of found objects.
Shirin Neshat - Unique Perception of Muslim Women Worldwide
Shirin Neshat is an Iranan female artist, and one of the best known Persian artists in the Western world, widely recognized for her work which includes photography, film and video. Born to a wealthy family from the Iranian town of Qazvin, Neshat soon left for the United States to get her art education, eventually completing her BA, MA and MFA at UC Berkeley and moving to NYC. Her extraordinary work, especially her photographs, combined with Persian poetry and calligraphy, were quickly noticed. These mesmerizing photographs, as well as Neshat’s engaged films, offer a unique glimpse at the cultural, religious and political circumstances that influence the identities of Muslim women worldwide.
Kara Walker - Raising Gender and Racial Issues through Large Scale Art
The work of Kara Walker, a contemporary African-American artist from NY, explores sensitive subjects like identity, gender, sexuality, violence, race and slavery. Born in California and raised in Atlanta, Kara Walker studied at the Atlanta College of Art and later obtained her master degree at the Rhode Island School of Art. Walker is working with different mediums, such as ochre gouaches, video animation, shadow puppets and ‘magic lantern’ projections. She is, however, most famous for her room-size graphic representations of black paper cut-out silhouettes, which boldly raise identity and gender issues of African American women. Walker’s 2014 large scale public project, which drew a lot of attention, titled ‘A Subtlety’, commissioned and presented by Creative Time, is showing a massive sugar covered sphinx-like sculpture which reflects on the troubled history of sugar.