The development of abstract art is mostly attributed to male artists from Wasily Kandisky and Piet Mondrian to Frank Stella and Donald Judd. This tendency has been argued on several occasions and perhaps a few publications, however, the true involvement of women artists in a broader historical context was rarely explored. In particular, those coming from other non-western environments remained so to speak hidden from the art historical canon.
Therefore, the current exhibition Female Minimal: Abstraction in the Expanded Field at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac tends to unravel the continuity in female contribution to the production of abstraction by underlining the activity of thirteen European and American artists whose pioneering efforts shaped different movements from Bauhaus and Neo-Plasticism, to Minimalism, Kinetic, Concrete, and Land art of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
Aside from being united to disrupt the male-dominated discourse in art, and criticize different sociopolitical issues of their time, most of the artists share a unique approach to the given movement, especially Minimal art, as they have extended the notion of the same by investigating the minimal as a leading concept in their work.
Curated by Anke Kempkes and Pierre-Henri Foulon the exhibition features a vast selection of paintings, photography, installation, and works on paper with numerous rarely exhibited works in the UK and one of the few surviving films made by Argentine artists from the 1950s and 1960s.
Female Minimal: Abstraction in the Expanded Field will be on display at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London until 18 December 2020.
To get you acquainted with the significance of these remarkable thirteen female artists whose activity has been obscured by the patriarchal hegemony, we decided to present you their deeds with the following list.
Featured image: Magdalena Wiecek - Sculpture project for the Eastern Wall (Inlet-Spatial composition), 1967. Pen on paper, 70 x 100 cm (27,56 x 39,37 in). Courtesy Estate of Magdalena Więcek and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London · Paris · Salzburg © Estate of Magdalena Więcek.
We begin with Marlow Moss (1889–1958), a pioneer of abstraction in the UK. Around 1919 she rejected her birth name Marjorie and adopted a new masculine identity in a queer attempt to mock a male-dominated art world. Moss was a prominent member of the Abstraction-Création group and had the central role in the development of Neo-Plasticism. She used to produce rigorous double line compositions that were based on a complex mathematical theory later adopted by Piet Mondrian who avoided to credit Moss.
Featured image: Marlow Moss - Untitled, 1944. Pencil on paper; Paper 29,5 x 29,5 cm (11,61 x 11,61 in); Frame 56,7 x 49,7 cm (22,32 x 19,57 in). Courtesy Meyer Gallery, London © reserved. Photo: Charles Duprat.
Another significant practitioner of abstraction in photography was Lucia Moholy (1894–1989), the wife of one of the leading avant-garde artists at the time, László Moholy-Nagy. Her contribution to art history was sadly overshadowed by the husband’s, although Lucia produced exceptional photographs that document the activities and objects of the Bauhaus school. The former theatre critic and artist was excluded from the Bauhaus archives by Walter Gropius.
Featured image: Lucia Moholy - Bauhaus Weimar - Josef Albers, tisch ti7 im vorzimmer des direktors Walter Gropius (Josef Albers, table ti7 in the antechamber of director Walter Gropius), circa 1924. Vintage print. Image: 15,5 x 23 cm (6,1 x 9,06 in). Framed dimensions: 41 x 31 x 4 cm (16,14 x 12,2 x 1,57 in). Courtesy Thomas Derda, Berlin © Estate of Lucia Moholy. Photo: Charles Duprat.
Magdalena Więcek (1924–2008) came to prominence throughout the 1960s as a leading promoter of modernist sculpture in the Communist Poland. She was able to produce her intriguing works through museum acquisitions and public funding that was not the case with female artists working in the West. Więcek was well acquainted with international tendencies and has exhibited worldwide. The works that will be on display show the artist's interest in the abstract form expressed in brass or plastic and mark a radical departure from the Social realist cannons.
The Hungarian/French artist Vera Molnár (b. 1924) is one of the pioneers of computer and algorithmic arts. She started her career by producing geometric abstractions in the mid1940s, and by late 1950s combinatorial images. Molnár was a co-founder of few artist research groups that explored the early programming languages Fortran and Basic, and in 1968 she started producing algorithmic paintings.
Featured image: Vera Molnar - Molndrian, 74,066/13.36.22, 1974. Computer drawing. Paper Dimensions: 26 x 26 cm (10,24 x 10,24 in). Courtesy Galerie Oniris, Rennes © Vera Molnar.
Liliane Lijn (born 1939) is an American multidisciplinary artist acknowledged for her pioneering experiments based on the intersection of art and technology, Eastern philosophy, and female mythology. She is also noted as the first woman artist to explore both light and text. Since the early 1960s, Lijn has been experimenting with reflection, motion, and light, and conducted her first research into invisibility at MIT. Lijn was married to the Greek artist Takis and is best known for her cone-shaped series, as well as text-based works, sculptures, and films.
Featured image: Liliane Lijn - Poemkoan=D=4=Open=Apollinaire, 1968. Perspex letters on fiberglass cone, motorized turntable. Text by Lilian Lijn, 170 x 101 x 101 cm (66,93 x 39,76 x 39,76 in). Courtesy RODEO, London · Piraeus © Liliane Lijn. Photo: Charles Duprat.
The Argentine abstract artist Ana Sacerdote (b. 1925) started painting at the age of 15 and had a first solo exhibition at the age of 87 due to various complications and a nomadic lifestyle. Although Sacerdote managed to attend art school in Buenos Aires, her art education was largely formed upon informal studying and self-teaching. The artist was most influenced by Concrete and abstract artists from Buenos Aires and is known for expansive geometric compositions and explorations of color theory, as well as later interest in film and computer technology.
Mary Miss (b. 1944) is marked as one of the most prolific female artists of the 1970s who has set off as a practitioner of Minimal art and quickly turned to site-specific and Land art. She is critically recognized for her outstanding interventions/structures based on the intersection of landscape architecture, engineering, and urban design. Miss has worked with professionals coming from different disciplines with a special focus on engaging the public in decoding their surrounding environment. The exhibition features a large installation and sculptures from the late 1960s that have rarely been exhibited.
Featured image: Mary Miss - V's in the field, 1969, vintage print. Installation of 16 black and white photographs, individually mounted on board. Each: 25,4 x 25,4. Courtesy Mary Miss and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London · Paris · Salzburg © Mary Miss. Photo: Charles Duprat.
The upcoming exhibition also features Japanese-Brazilian artist Lydia Okumura (b. 1948), the early promoter of Conceptual Art in Brazil. Under the influence of the new art movements in Japan and North America, she developed a unique practice based on wall interventions. For this occasion, her monumental wall painting initially produced in Sao Paulo in 1984 is reenacted.
The practice of Maria Lai (1919–2013) is interwoven with the folkloric tradition of her native Sardinia. The artist was exploring different artistic styles while creating her own version of informal art and geometric abstraction. Lai is best known for her cycle of Telai (Looms) consisting of sculptures based on painting and weaving.
Featured image: Maria Lai - Senza titolo, 2009. Wood, thread, paint, cloth, wool and nails, 52 x 54 x 5,5 cm (20,47 x 21,26 x 2,17 in). Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London · Paris · Salzburg © Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2020. Photo: Charles Duprat.
Also working with weaving and textile design was a Swiss artist Verena Loewensberg (1912–1986) who was one of the four co-founders of the Zürich Concrete group. Around the mid-1930s she made the first concrete pictures and has participated in numerous successful group exhibitions. Loewensberg’s formalist compositions were very much inspired by jazz music and the work of Piet Mondrian and Georges Vantongerloo. Throughout her lifetime the artist also served as a prominent educator.
Featured image: Verena Loewensberg - Ohne Titel, 1953. Oil on canvas, 85 x 65 cm (33,46 x 25,59 in). Courtesy Verena Loewensberg Foundation and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London · Paris · Salzburg © Verena Loewensberg Foundation. Photo: Charles Duprat.
Also active in Zürich, Shizuko Yoshikawa (1934– 2019) was the first female Japanese student at the Ulm School of Design in 1961, and a significant contributor to the further development of abstract and kinetic art. She gained recognition for her simplistic, concrete colored reliefs in painted wood in the mid-1970s, before reduced that aesthetic to lighter tones executed on the outlines of the relief.
Featured image: Shizuko Yoshikawa - Farbschatten (color shade) 89/ 3x4, 1979—1980. Lacquer and acrylic on polyester, 75 x 100 cm (29,53 x 39,37 in). Courtesy The Shizuko Yoshikawa and Joseph Müller-Brockmann. Foundation and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London · Paris · Salzburg © The Shizuko Yoshikawa and Joseph Müller-Brockmann Foundation. Photo: Charles Duprat.
Loló Soldevilla (1901–1971) was the lead promoter of abstraction in Cuba from the 1950s onward. She was a self-taught artist who operated as the country’s cultural attaché in Paris where she embraced the latest tendencies in the ateliers of prominent European masters. Soldevilla was one the founders of the group Los Diez Pintores Concretos (The Ten Concrete Painters) and is celebrated for her astonishing Color Luz theory that infused her constructions based on the light as a working element in abstract designs.
Featured image: Lolo Soldevilla - Untitled, 1954. Mixed media on wood, 46 x 72,1 cm (18,125 x 28,375 in) © Estate of Lolo Soldevilla.
The last artist whose work is featured in the current exhibition is the legendary Rosemarie Castoro (1939– 2015). She belonged to New York’s Art Workers’ Coalition in 1969 and was one of the eight women interviewed for the groundbreaking 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? by Linda Nochlin. Castoro was one of the leading figures of the 1960s and 1970s Minimal and Conceptual art scene in New York; her practice is presented with a series of archival photographs and a large-scale sculpture called Flasher.
Featured image: Rosemarie Castoro - Sept 68, 1968. Graphite on paper; Motif 33,66 x 38,1 cm (13,25 x 15 in); Paper 66,04 x 48,9 cm (26 x 19,25 in); Frame 65,41 x 69,85 x 4,45 cm (25,75 x 27,5 x 1,75 in). © The Estate of Rosemarie Castoro. Courtesy of Anke Kempkes Art Advisory. Photo: Charles Duprat.