Eight must-see exhibitions by women artists in 2018

Published 7 March 2018

Art Quarterly’s editor, Helen Sumpter, and assistant editor, Anna McNay, select eight must-see exhibitions by women artists in 2018.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the vote first being granted to (certain) women, paving the way for universal suffrage 10 years later.

With numerous events taking place across the country to mark the passing of this historic legislation, including the Museum of London's Votes for Women exhibition, we thought this was the opportune time to shine a spotlight on some of the well-known and lesser-known women artists with exhibitions on in 2018.

From a fascinating glimpse into the life (and wardrobe) of Frida Kahlo at the V&A to a new show by 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston, there are some great opportunities this year to explore the work of some of the most significant artists of our time.

Plus, many of these shows are free or have reduced entry with a National Art Pass.

When it comes to planning which shows to see, who better to ask for recommendations than Helen and Anna from the editorial team behind Art Quarterly magazine, who've selected some of their personal highlights for the year.

Lubaina Himid, A Fashionable Marriage, 1986. Installation view, The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, 2017

Lubaina Himid: Hard Times

2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid is quite rightly having her ‘moment’, not only in recognition of her mixed-media art, which interrogates the historical and art-historical representation of people from the African diaspora, but also for her role as an educator and archiver of important work by Black British artists from the 1980s (as featured in the spring 2017 Art Quarterly).

This exhibition, in her adopted home of Preston, and the title of which makes reference to a visit Charles Dickens made to the town, features key installations including A Fashionable Marriage (1986), alongside works by Himid from the Harris’ collection.

Joan Jonas, The Juniper Tree, 1976 / 1994

Joan Jonas

This Tate Modern retrospective of octogenarian American performance art, film and video pioneer Joan Jonas is the largest showing of her work in the UK to date, including films and installations from the 1960s to the present day.

Part of the feminist generation of the 1960s and 70s, Jonas’ longstanding interest in our relationship to landscape and nature also makes her something of an environmental pioneer.

Accompanying the exhibition, Tate Modern’s BMW Tate Live exhibition ‘Ten Days Six Nights', running from 16 to 25 March, will feature live performances by Jonas alongside contemporary musicians and artists.

Tacita Dean, Four, Five, Six, Seven and Nine Leaf Clover Collection, 1972-present. Installation view Museo Tamayo

Tacita Dean: Landscape

Tacita Dean: Portrait
National Portrait Gallery, 15 March – 28 May 2018

Tacita Dean: Still Life
National Gallery, 15 March – 28 May 2018

Three concurrent exhibitions in three major London institutions, each with a different focus, and each including new work, would be a daunting proposition for any artist, but Tacita Dean seems perfectly suited to take this on.

Over a 25-year career, her work in experimental film, photography, sound and drawing has already demonstrated a deep engagement with the genres of landscape, portraiture and still life, which become the focus for these three shows.

A feature of her National Portrait Gallery show is the film work Portraits (2016), about David Hockney, and which was acquired by the gallery with Art Fund support.

Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child, 1903

Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz

‘I was determined to be an artist from the outset, even though I had the disadvantage of being a girl,’ wrote Käthe Kollwitz in a letter in 1901.

Halfway through its two-year tour, this exhibition marks the 150th anniversary of this pioneering German artist’s birth. Her drawings, prints and sculptures deal with themes of power, politics and social reality, not shying away from the larger questions of life and death.

Her searing self-portraits explore motherhood, ageing and bereavement, with the loss of her younger son in the First World War being a recurring theme for the rest of her life.

Jenny Saville, Rosetta II, 2005-06

NOW: Jenny Saville and others

Throughout the history of art, the female nude has been enjoyed as an object of male delectation, idealised and airbrushed, shown looking coyly away. Picking up the baton from generations of male figurative painters, such as Lucian Freud, to whom she is frequently compared, Jenny Saville is often credited with a ‘reappropriation’ of the female figure.

Her outsized, fleshy and frequently disturbing paintings of naked women flout the rules of traditional nude painting, challenging conceived notions of body image. Her Renaissance-style drawings of mother (Madonna) and child, however, are fleeting, touching and maternal. This major five-room survey spans 25 years of the artist’s career.

Chantal Joffe, Poppy, Esme, Oleanna, Gracie and Kate, 2014

Personal Feeling is the Main Thing: Chantal Joffe

Whether based on photographs or painted from life, Chantal Joffe’s expressive figurative paintings beautifully capture both the tender intimacies and the awkwardnesses of human, and especially family, relationships.

In this exhibition Joffe shows her work, including a large-scale self-portrait with her daughter, alongside selected paintings by German expressionist Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), whose work she has long admired.

Despite her tragically short life and career, Modersohn-Becker is an artist whose work remains ever-powerful, in particular in relation to the difficulties often faced by women artists in combining a family life with an artistic one.

Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Red and Gold Dress, 1941

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

From a young age, Frida Kahlo fought to overcome physical adversity, surviving polio at the age of six, and a bus accident that fractured her pelvis and displaced three vertebrae at 18.

While her autobiography – including her tempestuous, on-off marriage to muralist Diego Rivera, her affairs and her revolutionary activity – continues to intrigue, her self-portraits, which embrace the naïve folk art style of her native Mexico, have become iconic around the globe.

Her inimitable style has likewise influenced many fashions and trends, and this exhibition presents a collection of her personal artefacts and clothing for the first time outside Mexico.

Anni Albers, Intersecting, 1962

Anni Albers

Going against the expectations of her middle-class Berlin upbringing at the beginning of the 20th century, Anni Albers, born Annelise Elsa Frieda Fleischmann, instead enrolled at the influential Bauhaus art school in 1922.

Initially joining the weaving workshop, being one of the few options open to women students, Albers took on textiles in just the same way as she might have taken on painting, creating brilliantly patterned abstract wall-hangings alongside more functional textile designs.

This major retrospective of her work will demonstrate why Albers has become synonymous with the idea that textiles can be art just as much as design.

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