Sunday, 11 November 2012

There were avant-garde WOMEN artists before 1950: The 31 WomenProject

For anybody who sometimes wonders what I do when I'm not engaged in playwrighting or fiction (which I haven't done much of this year), here's an explanation.
For several years I've been working on an art-history project which I've kept more or less under wraps, for not very fathomable reasons. It's about time I talked about it! My aim at the outset was to accomplish the completion and publishing of a book on this subject. Most research is now complete. A number of chapters are already written, so here's an introduction to the project. 

The 31 Women Project – early days

This was the first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the women who had participated, largely unacknowledged, in the progress of avant-garde art movements over the earlier decades of the twentieth century.

The exhibition was titled simply An Exhibition by 31 Women. If you read any large book that purports to give an overall view of art history, it is often difficult to find mention of three women artists, let alone thirty-one.  Yet when this exhibition opened on the fifth of January 1943 at 'Art of This Century', which was the name Peggy Guggenheim gave to her new art gallery in New York, there had been no difficulty in finding 31 artists to exhibit. The art on display may not have all been truly ground breaking, but much was and also diverse, extraordinary and colourful.  So were the artists.
I first discovered the Exhibition by 31 Women while studying at the University of Leeds. A module involved researching an art exhibition which I considered ground-breaking.  I found mention of the 31 Women and managed to acquire a checklist for it from MOMA in New York. I was horrified to find that I had only heard of three of these women. I’ve since asked more scholarly people and even they can only recognise a dozen or so. I decided something had to be done to recover this exhibition from obscurity and, more importantly to rescue the artists who had disappeared from view. Project 31 Women was born.

It took me four years to identify all the 31 artists, because some names on the checklist were spelled inaccurately and one was simply wrong. There was never an exhibition catalogue, but I now know who they all were and which media they worked in. I have looked at illustrations of works by them all and seen actual works by thirteen.  I have listed many of their exhibitions and obtained biographical information on all of them, some more complete than others. I have researched the context, style and progress of their work and know that although some of these 31 women have been dismissed as dilettantes, all were hugely creative and very serious about art and most were innovative and highly talented.

There are half a dozen star names here, artists who are not likely to vanish any time soon; Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, Louise Nevelson, Sophie Taeuber and Meret Oppenheim are all well respected in the USA and/or Europe. Others were and are almost totally unheard of; the hardest to pin down included Barbara Reis, Anne Harvey, Milena, Gretchen Schoeninger and Aline Meyer-Liebman.  And then there was Gipsy Rose Lee. Artiste yes, but artist? Well, Gipsy was an art collector and exhibited her own artwork at least twice at the gallery started by her friend, Peggy Guggenheim.
I’ve been working on the 31 Women project since 2004. It continues…, more later.



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