A Moment of Change is Reflected in Sotheby's Contemporary Day and Evening Sales

A Moment of Change is Reflected in Sotheby's Contemporary Day and Evening Sales

A s a champion for greater equality in the art world, I am increasingly asked to lecture on the subject of women artists. About five years ago, I wrote a presentation called ‘Will Women Artists Catch Up In My Lifetime?” which I delivered at various galleries, institutions, corporate events and members clubs. I adapted the slides to reflect changing statistics over the first couple of years and felt optimistic when the percentages for representation crept up slightly each year. But when I realized how painfully slowly change was actually happening and how fragile our gains were, I became increasingly despondent.

"A champion for greater equality in the art world" critic, curator, author and broadcaster Kate Bryan

That is, until 2021, when for the first time I suddenly saw a breakthrough and could actually visualize a world where women artists were going to be genuinely equal in representation. There was no one single factor that has led me to my buoyant outlook and certainly, this is me solely imagining a future that women deserve, rather than experiencing a perfect landscape right now. But I am happy with my imagined future, where I can finally stop making dark jokes that women artists are the bargain of this century. I think a huge factor is the pandemic, which has given a greater relevance than ever to art as an intellectual and emotional life raft. And a society which is confronting under-representation with a forcefulness I have never witnessed in my lifetime.

Everywhere I look, I see positive affirmations of a shifting dial, a space where genuine change is being insisted upon and celebrated. The canon is being rewritten before our eyes and I don’t think we live in a world which will allow us to go back again. Looking through these sales, I am enthused to see several magnificent artists I particularly love included alongside the likes of Boetti, Baselitz, Richter, Twombly and Beuys.

I first encountered Mickalene Thomas’s work when I was presenting a series for Sky Arts called The Art Show. In 2015, Thomas was picked out as a singular creative force in New York and I was achingly jealous that a colleague was sent to film in her studio, rather than me. I found her multimedia work which combines painting, photography and collaged components instantly powerful, demanding the viewer pay attention to how identity and value is constructed visually. For me, she will always be the first artist to introduce rhinestones into the hallowed halls of art history and allow their supposed crudity to stand for so much: sexism, classism and racism. Her work upends presumptions about the muse/maker and disrupts what we think we understand about representation and power. Seamlessly referencing several art historical periods, where women were the aesthetic playthings of men, Thomas reinvents the narrative with a particular emphasis on how African-American women have redefined traditional standards of beauty.

Mickalene Thomas, Clarivel Left MANI_HAUSLER

Another artist who feeds my art historical appetite whilst forging new ground is Flora Yukhnovich. Although she was born in 1990, she communes with Rococo masters as if with old friends. Fragonard has been given a new lease of life in 'I'll Have What She's Having', a work that pays homage, whilst driving painting forward with new language that sits in a fascinating terrain between abstraction and figuration, reality and fiction, art history and the present. There is a further duality at play, which is the gender-dynamic of painting – Rococo with its ‘feminine’ sumptuous pastels, airy pastoral landscapes and pretty girls in dresses, is confronted by the machismo of AbEx, developed in smoky bars of 1950s New York.

Flora Yukhnovich, I'll Have What She's Having

Another artist who paints with an old soul on young shoulders is Jadé Fadojutimi, born in 1993. Her language also borrows from ground won by Abstract Expressionists like Lee Krasner and Willem De Kooning and pushes the dialogue forward by making work that grapples with how identity is constructed in a globalised, digitised age. As she describes herself, each painting is a kind of exploration to "question the existence of feelings and reactions to daily experiences. They question our perceptions and perspectives whilst manifesting struggles. They recognize a lack of self, caused by automatically thinking that my identity is already defined, and also a frustration that paint can accept these characteristics better than myself."

Jade Fadojutimi, The Barefooted Scurry Home

When I read Fadojutimi’s words, she brought to my mind another philosophical creator, Jorinde Voigt, who pours her own experience into her largely abstract work - from the micro feeling of wind on her face, to the macro questions of her place in the universe. I admire the way in which Voigt has made her own science out of emotion – reminding us of the perversity that as beings who all experience a range of feelings all of the time, we live in a world where emotions have little currency in a professional, ordered society.

Jorinde Voigt, Konnex 5 Horizonte / Konnex 5 Horizons, (From the collection of Sir Anish Kapoor)

All of the lots I have singled out here may be by women artists, but that’s a lazy grouping. More than that, they are creatives who have cast their net back throughout art history, making small and welcome incisions into the fabric of the canon, pushing the conversation forward and allowing for a world which will see a multiplicity of voices.

The Contemporary Evening Sale is presented in partnership with CELINE

Contemporary Art

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