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The best female-led art exhibitions to see in London in 2019

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Sarah Shaffi
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The best female-led art exhibitions to see in London in 2019

Head to one of these exhibitions in 2019 to feast your eyes on artwork by and about women.

London’s galleries and museums are full of world-famous work, but women have long been underrepresented in the art world.

Why? For starters, there’s the fact that women were generally excluded from art academies and highly-prized apprenticeships – where men were trained in arts such as painting and sculpture – until the 20th century. The art skills that were deemed appropriate for women, such as weaving and embroidery, were dismissed as feminine and unsophisticated. And when women defied convention to enter the male-dominated world of fine art, they were often later erased from history – women like 19th century African-American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, or Suor Plautilla Nelli, the first-known female Renaissance painter. 

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Gender bias remains a major problem in the modern art world. In 2017, female artists accounted for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection and 20% of the Whitworth Manchester’s, and less than a quarter (22%) of solo shows presented by London’s major commercial galleries were by women artists. According to a report by the Freedlands Foundation, a charity that supports UK artists, art education and cultural institutions, “women continue to be excluded from the mainstream commercial art market despite their best efforts to participate”.

These grim statistics make it all the more important to search out and support exhibitions featuring work by female artists, past and present.

Below, we’ve rounded up upcoming exhibitions at galleries and museums in London which focus on the work of women artists - from Bridget Riley and Mary Quant to Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman.

We’ll keep adding to this guide throughout 2019, so make sure to save it to your bookmarks. 

  • Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at Hayward Gallery

    Photographer Diane Arbus often made people who were on the margins of American society in the Fifties and Sixties – such as strippers, carnival performers and transgender men and women – the subject of her work. These photographs will be on display at the Hayward Gallery in an exhibition exploring the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962. Organised by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the show features nearly 100 photographs, mostly from the Diane Arbus Archive, including some that have never been seen in Europe before. In the Beginning is the first solo show of Arbus’ work in the UK for more than 12 years.

    Where: Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX

    When: 13 February to 6 May 2019

    How much: Free for Southbank Centre members; from £12.50 for non-members

  • Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern

    Dorothea Tanning (1910 –2012)Endgame 1944Oil paint on canvas430 x 430 mmCollection of Harold & Gertrud Parker. Courtesy Gertrud V. Parker© DACS, 2018
    Dorothea Tanning (1910 –2012)Endgame 1944Oil paint on canvas430 x 430 mmCollection of Harold & Gertrud Parker. Courtesy Gertrud V. Parker© DACS, 2018. terms and conditions: That the reproductions are accompanied by the name of the artist, the title and date of work, the owner credit line, the copyright holder and photo credit That the reproductions are not cropped, overprinted, tinted or subject to any form of derogatory treatment without the prior approval of the copyright owner That the images are only reproduced to illustrate an article or feature reviewing or reporting on the exhibition stated (section 30(i) and (ii) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) That any reproductions that accompany an article are not used for marketing or advertising purposes The use of images for front covers may attract a fee and will require the prior authorisation of the owner and copyright holder of the work. Please contact Tate Press Office for such use

    Dorothea Tanning’s extraordinary career spanned seven decades and mediums including painting, print, sculpture and writing. This Tate Modern exhibition is the first large-scale exhibition of her work for 25 years, featuring 100 of her works. Tanning’s early work was influenced by surrealism, and after her marriage to fellow artist Max Ernst she began to explore desire and sexuality through her art. In the Fifties her paintings became more abstract; the following decade, she started making sculptures from fabric. Among the highlights on display at the Tate Modern will be a room-sized installation which features bodies growing out of the walls of an imaginary hotel room.

    Where: Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

    When: 27 February to 9 June 2019

    How much: Free for members; from £11 for non-members

    Image: Dorothea Tanning’s Endgame (1944), from the collection of Harold and Gertrud Parker, courtesy Gertrud V. Parker © DACS, 2018.

  • Mary Quant at the V&A

    British fashion designer Mary Quant is often credited with bringing miniskirts and hotpants into the mainstream in Sixties London. The V&A’s upcoming Mary Quant exhibition will feature 200 of the designer’s garments and accessories, including shoes, dresses and unseen pieces from her personal archive – as well as photographs chronicling her journey from suburban schoolgirl to Swinging Sixties icon. A must for fans of Sixties fashion fans.

    Where: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

    When: 6 April 2019 to 16 February 2020

    How much: From £12

  • Sixty Years at Tate Britain

    Bridget Riley's Achæan 1981 Tate© Bridget Riley. Image only to be used for pieces about Tate's Sixty Years.
    Bridget Riley's Achæan 1981 Tate© Bridget Riley. Image only to be used for pieces about Tate's Sixty Years.

    In recent years, several galleries and museums have announced plans to make their collections and exhibitions more inclusive. As part of Tate Britain’s effort, it is mounting Sixty Years, a display dedicated to women artists working in Britain between 1960 and the present day. Featured artists will include Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas, Bridget Riley and Mary Martin, with a collection of film, multimedia, photography, sculpture, painting and more.

    Where: Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG

    When: 22 April 2019 until April 2020

    How much: Free

    Image: Bridget Riley’s Achæan (1981) will be among the works on display as part of Sixty Years. © Bridget Riley

  • Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican Art Gallery

    Lee Krasner August 1953: Portrait of Abstract Expressionist artist Lee Krasner (1908 - 1984), wearing eyeglasses and seated next to a heater at her home in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Tony Vaccaro/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
    Lee Krasner August 1953: Portrait of Abstract Expressionist artist Lee Krasner (1908 - 1984), wearing eyeglasses and seated next to a heater at her home in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Tony Vaccaro/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

    From Jo Hopper to Elaine de Kooning, history is littered with talented women artists who were overshadowed by their husbands. Among these women is Lee Krasner, an abstract expressionist whose work was eclipsed by her marriage to Jackson Pollock. But at this exhibition – the first major presentation of her work in Europe for more than 50 years – the focus will be completely on Krasner. On display will be nearly 100 works from self-portraits to collages, including many that haven’t been seen in the UK before.

    Where: Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS

    When: 20 May to 1 September 2019

    How much: From £15

  • Manga at The British Museum

    Higashimura Akiko (b.1975), Princess Jellyfish ( Kuragehime ) , 2008 - 2017 Image: © Akiko Higashimura / Kodansha Ltd.
    Higashimura Akiko (b.1975), Princess Jellyfish ( Kuragehime ) , 2008 - 2017 Image: © Akiko Higashimura / Kodansha Ltd.

    Forget any preconceptions you have about manga being the preserve of the nerdy – the Japanese comic books and graphic books are most definitely cool. And in 2019, the British Museum is playing host to the largest ever exhibition of manga outside of Japan. Manga will spotlight internationally renowned female artists including Hagio Moto, Takemiya Keiko and Higashimura Akiko. Akiko’s manga series Princess Jellyfish is primarily aimed at women, and explores ideas of gender and identity through the setting of a fictional apartment building where only female tenants are allowed.

    Where: The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

    When: 23 May to 26 August 2019

    How much: From £19.50

    Image: From Higashimura Akiko’s Princess Jellyfish. © Akiko Higashimura/Kodansha Ltd.

  • Natalia Goncharova at Tate Modern

    Natalia Goncharova 6 Jun – 8 Sep 2019 Tate Modern Image credit: Natalia Goncharova, Peasants Picking Apples 1911. © The State Tretyakov Gallery
    Natalia Goncharova 6 Jun – 8 Sep 2019 Tate Modern Image credit: Natalia Goncharova, Peasants Picking Apples 1911. © The State Tretyakov Gallery

    Often described as a forerunner to avant-garde icons including Marina Abramović and Yayoi Kusama, Russian artist Natalia Goncharova had a varied career. As well as experimenting with painting and design, she designed costumes and backdrops for the Ballet Russes, marched through the streets of Moscow wearing futuristic body art in the early 20th century, and worked on religious murals. This exhibition at the Tate Modern will explore Goncharova’s many influences, from Russian folk art to textile design and beyond.

    Where: Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

    When: 6 June to 8 September 2019

    How much: Free for members

    Image: Natalia Goncharova’s Peasants Picking Apples (1911). © The State Tretyakov Gallery

  • Cindy Sherman at National Portrait Gallery

    Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #15, 1978, Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
    Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #15, 1978, Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

    Editing one’s own image is second nature to many people in 2018. But long before the ubiquity of Instagram filters and Photoshop, artist Cindy Sherman was manipulating her appearance in her conceptual portraits, playing characters ranging from a clown to an elderly socialite. In this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, the focus will be on how Sherman altered her own form, exploring the tension between façade and reality. It will also include her famous series Untitled Film Stills, in which she posed as a variety of generic female film characters, such as ‘working girl’ and ‘lonely housewife’.

    Where: Wolfson and Lerner Galleries, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE

    When: 27 June to 15 September 2019

    How much: Free for members, £18 for non-members

    Image: Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #15 (1978), courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

  • Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at National Portrait Gallery

    Fanny Eaten by Joanna Wells (1861). Image: Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

    Visit many galleries and there will be plenty of portraits and photographs of women whose lives remain a mystery, even if their names are known. The National Gallery’s Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition will focus on the untold story of the women of Pre-Raphaelite art, including artists, models and muses. Using paintings, photographs, manuscripts and personal items, the show will explore the contribution of 12 women to the movement, including Everlyn de Morgan, Effie Millais, Elizabeth Siddal and Joanna Wells.

    Where: National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE

    When: 17 October to 26 January 2019

    How much: Free for members, £18 for non-members

    Image: Fanny Eaten by Joanna Wells (1861), courtesy of Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

  • Bridget Riley at Hayward Gallery

    Hayward Gallery's 50th Anniversary Party LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Bridget Riley attends the Hayward Gallery's 50th anniversary party at The Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, on July 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
    Hayward Gallery's 50th Anniversary Party LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Bridget Riley attends the Hayward Gallery's 50th anniversary party at The Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, on July 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

    British abstract artist Bridget Riley is having a moment. Not only will she feature in Tate Britain’s Sixty Years display, the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery is also hosting a major retrospective of her work this year. Come to check out Riley’s iconic black and white line paintings from the Sixties and her only three-dimensional work, 1963’s Continuum, as well as three new wall paintings made especially for the Hayward.

    Where: Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX

    When: 23 October 2019 to 26 January 2020

    How much: Free for members

Images: Lead picture by Cindy Sherman / Provided by venues / Getty Images

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