GAME CHANGERS: Renegade artists defying convention
Presenting works by Bridget Riley, Nancy Fouts, Nina Chanel Abney, Swoon, Tracey Emin, Yayoi Kusama the show highlights women who are and were true artistic game changers, playing on a field that was rigged against them.
The implications of the COVID pandemic mean it’s been ages since we held our last show (February 2020, to be exact). For our first exhibition after such a long hiatus, we are proud to be focusing on six artists who’ve made lasting contributions to the art world over the course of the last century. From Bridget Riley to Nina Chanel Abney, each has forged a career at the top of their game, despite the fact that the odds were rigged against them.
Like many things (and all the complicated things that feed into the art market, including finance and politics), the likelihood of becoming a renowned artist has traditionally been influenced by social status, race and sex – and the status quo has remained for far too long. But we have to believe that things will change going forward – and the artists featured in Game Changers are proof that it can happen.
Bridget Riley, whose work features in the exhibition, wrote about her rejection of gender categorisation in her 1973 essay, The Hermaphrodite. Shunning labels of any sort (including the ‘Op Art’ tag), she wanted to be free to explore art without the limitations that they might impose. Another artist who refused traditional labelling is Yayoi Kusama, who was not cowed by her struggles with mental health but rather made them central to her practice. And Tracey Emin, who has fought her own very public class and sex wars, has shown that there is room (and perhaps a need) for a different narrative in the traditionally middle class, male realm of art.
Although we are still some way from equality in the art world, there has been positive change since Kusama and Riley launched their careers: witness Nina Chanel Abney’s rightfully meteoric rise, which has been mercifully free of gender labelling, and Swoon’s adaptation of street art methodology for her imagined worlds which include recurring themes of motherhood and women’s lifecycles. When Nancy Fouts passed away in 2019, her obituaries discussed her charisma and her wild parties alongside her incredible talent for surrealism, but they did not go into irrelevant detail about her personal life and relationships – a fact that would have been unthinkable just decades before.
Building on all of this, we must push for continued change in the hope that, during our lifetimes, all women artists will be judged by the same criteria as their male counterparts. The Game Changers exhibition was designed as a celebration of the huge contributions that the artists featured have made to the industry, regardless of their gender.