UNTIL 31ST JULY 2017
I wouldn’t normally drag myself out to Bethnal Green for an exhibition, but I did it and I’d do it again.
31 women – which seems pretty self explanatory – immediately appealed to my inner feminist: give me all the women artists! Exhibitions like this are rare in Mayfair. This is a bit more intellectual, a bit less obviously commercial and a bit more experimental.
The heart of the exhibition channels Peggy Guggenheim’s show of the same name in her New York gallery Art of This Century in 1943 (more here) at the height of World War II, daring to exhibit women only artists – the first of it’s kind in the US. But you had me at Peggy Guggenheim.
The idea came to co-founders Josephine Breese and Henry Little after watching the Peggy Guggenheim documentary Art Addict.Artists of the 1943 exhibition included Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, Gypsy Rose Lee, Frida Kahlo, Kay Sage etc. Breese Little begins from where Peggy left off with the artworks on view hailing from the 1940s onwards and focusing on Surrealism vs Abstract Expressionism, starting with the ever underrated Eileen Agar who operated in Peggy’s artistic circles, with the collage ‘Fighter Pilot’ all the way up to one of my favourites, Celia Hempton depicting the “sitter” ‘Bunny, India, 11th February 2016’.
Also unlike a Mayfair gallery, Breese Little doesn’t have a big shiny space, but the artworks chosen play so nicely together in this little Bethnal Green Space. Laura Aldridge’s big yellow sun (Be a Nose! #2, 2014) hangs above you as you enter the powerhouse of women artists. A cluster of paintings includes the aforementioned Celia Hempton painting from her most recent body of work, the Chat Random paintings (if you’ve never been on it, here you go: www.chatrandom.com and good luck ). Bridget Riley makes an appearance (couldn’t have a show of this nature without her) with an important 1972 gouache prep study for a painting called ‘Towards Little Diamond’ which marks her transition into her Op Art period… and colour! It’s all a Judy Chicago Dinner Party within these four walls.
The works chosen are at once both representative of the London art scene as it stands and indicative of the artistic modes of enquiries from the Guggenheim days- the conversation between surrealism and abstract expressionism is still to be had. As Tracey Emin shows, the psycho-sexual will always be topical, whilst Angela de la Cruz continues to question what painting is.
Despite the Guggenheim connection, Breese and Little have pointed out that the eponymous 1943 exhibition was, although radical, staged in a largely pre-feminist society- thus the conversation about what it truly meant to have an exclusively female show didn’t take centre stage the way it does today. They say, “we don’t need to push an agenda onto the exhibition. Yes, it is a show featuring female artists, but that shouldn’t stop anyone appreciating it from multiple perspectives.”
Update: Breese Little is unfortunately due to permanently close at the end of this exhibition, which is incredibly sad news!!