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The women-only exhibit you must see


The Saatchi Gallery’s first all-female exhibition has divided the art world. Here, Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, explains why we should all go

It will showcase the kind of boundary-pushing, and slightly bonkers, work that the Saatchi Gallery in London has become renowned for (Charles Saatchi is, after all, one of the first people to champion works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and even their YBA contemporary, my cousin, Jenny Saville). Inspired by the work of one of the featured artists, Julia Wachtel, and a wry swipe at the perceived glamour of life as an artist, the exhibition is named Champagne Life. It devotes a museum-sized space to the works of 14 emerging, international female artists, including Brits Alice Anderson and Stephanie Quayle. You’ll find large-scale, eye-popping works – from a life-size clay sculpture of two doe-eyed cows (Quayle) to a larger-than-life spool and thread (Anderson).

In the run-up to the exhibition’s opening, debate has raged about whether holding a show which highlights the work of one sex over another is the right way to tackle gender inequality in art. And there’s undeniably something sad about the fact that an artist’s gender continues to play a part in their success. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t delineate between men and women; excellence would be championed regardless of gender. 

But historically, art, like politics, has been man’s domain. There have been an infinite number of all-male shows, a fact which, until recently, went unquestioned. But even in the 21st century, exhibitions continue to be dominated by the work of men. The figures speak for themselves: only 30% of the work on display at galleries in London, New York and LA is by women. According to The Guardian, last year only 8% of the top 50 contemporary art lots sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in China, New York and London were by women. That’s four out of 50. 

With such stark imbalances, we can’t just hope for the best – something more drastic needs to be done to secure the place of female artists in the canon. And if an all-women exhibition is that something, then it’s only pragmatic to support it. I’m certainly going.

My 2016 pledge to women

Liz Saville Roberts MP

“I’ll be looking at digital crime, social media and trolling, which particularly affect women. I’ll be working to find new ways for police to identify which posts on Facebook and Twitter pose a genuine threat to the receiver.”

Champagne Life is at the Saatchi Gallery, London, SW3, from 13 January until 6 March; saatchigallery.com

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