Women remain underrepresented in the art world, whether that be in gallery space or museums. However, at Frieze London and Frieze Masters 2018, there was an active effort made to counter these effects as women were seen in positions of authority and within every level of the programming. In its 16th year, Frieze featured over 150 galleries from diverse areas including Tokyo, Dubai, Seoul and Mexico City and created this emphasis on women in the hopes to provide an example for a long-term correction within the art world.
Frieze appointed various women in authority positions, such as a female curator of Frieze Projects and a female artistic director for Frieze London. In addition, the talks programme for Frieze Masters exclusively featured female artists. Talk highlights included artists such as Amy Sillman, Doris Salcedo and Tacita Dean.
Frieze’s has always been well known for its dealer booths and the wide array of art for sale, and this year, women’s art was celebrated and widely present at these booths. Even at Frieze Masters, which focuses on work made before the 21st century, women were found uniquely incorporated in the normally predominately male displays. At one booth, New York dealer Tina Kim showcased works by several female Korean artists. This included several untitled canvases made during the 1960s and 1970s by Wook-Kyung Choi. Even among the Old Master gallery sections, women artwork is incorporated and emphasized, which is particularly difficult to achieve considering the lack of female artists from that time period. One dealer within the Old Master gallery section, Sam Fogg from London, featured a circa 1480 tapestry featuring the life of Christ. The tapestry was possibly made for the monastery of Saint Walburga in Eichstatt and extensive research proved that it was woven by a nun or nuns. The names of the makers were unknown but this is fairly common for medieval art.
In Frieze London, which focuses on contemporary work created mostly during the 21st century, two strictly feminist-themed exhibits titled “Social Work” and “Another World” were featured. “Social Work” is a follow-up to last year’s “Sex Work” section, which featured radical feminist artists whose art had been largely excluded from the mainstream market due to the explicit content. “Social Work” acts as a homage to artists who used their art as political activism and challenged social norms. It featured eight artists, well and lesser-known, including Sonia Boyce, Helen Chadwick, Ipek Duben, Tina Keane, Mary Kelly, Faith Ringgold, Berni Searle, and Nancy Spero, who all created work in response to the social and political divides of the 1980s and 1990s. For examples, Helen Chadwick created prolific works intended to jolt the viewer and inspired a generation of women in the British Arts Movement while Berni Searle looks at issues of identity as one of the first black South African women to emerge after apartheid. In addition, the exhibition highlighted galleries roles in supporting the voices of women artists.
“Another World” came to existence with the help of The Deutsche Bank Collection, the lead partner of Frieze. “Another World” was originally founded in remembrance of the 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage in Germany and Great Britain and was curated by Tracey Emin and her studio.
At both London Frieze fairs, only women artists works were featured in the bank’s lounges. Such artists in the Frieze London Lounge were Mona Hatoum, Lubaina Himid, and Laura Owens while in the Frieze Masters Lounge artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Eva Hesse, and Paula Rego were seen. Emin not only wanted to celebrate history, though, since she also made an active effort to use this show as a way to support women who are vulnerable and in situations of domestic abuse. She contacted all 520 of the living female artists represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection asking them to send her four postcard-sized works, which were exhibited in the Lounge and sold at a minimum 200 Euro donation. The proceeds went to charities who support vulnerable women in the community.
The postcard is historically significant and fitting for the project since it dates back to the beginning of the women’s movement. Suffragettes and their opponents would both use the postcard format to promote propaganda either for or against women’s right to vote. In addition, the postcards were interesting because the works were signed on the back making the artists’ identity unknown until after purchase. Due to this, it was possible that a buyer took home either an original by a world famous artist or someone who was more up and coming.
While “Another World” is in a feminist context and deals with issues of women’s equality, Emin’s goal was to create subject matter that was relatable to everyone. For this reason, the exhibition was titled “Another World” so that it could be interpreted by the viewer; it could literally be another world for one person. Emin stated that for her, it represented the afterlife.
The inclusive example set by Frieze this year will hopefully resonate with other museums and galleries and become a small effort that leads to a higher representation of women in art.