Jul 21, 2023 2:46PM
Shortly before she turned 90, Louise Bourgeois made an immersive installation for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Entitled I Do, I Undo and I Redo (1999–2000), the work allowed audiences to climb three steel spiral staircases—each named for one of the verbs in the title, and each containing a sculpted figure of mother and child. Often defined as a career milestone for the artist, the installation seems to evoke the working and reworking (and doubt, overthinking, and second chances) that was necessary for this monumentally important artist to reach this stage in her career.
While the art market sees consistent demand for work by young men and old ladies, these same older women artists are routinely neglected by institutions. When they are recognized, this celebration of their work is often overdue. By ignoring older women’s contributions, wider audiences often miss out on mature practices like Bourgeois. While questions of gender parity in relation to age are more frequently discussed in relation to Hollywood actresses, they are also valid for the art world, where a greater platform for these older artists is desperately needed.
Below, Artsy selects nine overlooked women artists in their nineties, whose work, while significant, still hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
B. 1926, New York. Lives and works in New York.
Rosalyn Drexler is best known for her Pop Art paintings from the 1960s, like the iconic 1963 work Marilyn Pursued by Death. Painted after Marilyn Monroe’s death, the painting starts with the collaged image of Monroe being chased by a man, which Drexler painted over—typical of her process. The man’s identity is ambiguous: He could be a photographer, a bodyguard, a stalker, a lover, or even Death itself, as the title has it. The painting suggests that Monroe is being tragically haunted, a reminder of the viewer’s own complicity in the obsession with the starlet’s image.
Drexler’s paintings collage images from magazines, newspapers, and other sources, which she then paints over in a figurative style that takes inspiration from advertisements and film posters of the 1960s. This use of popular imagery is often a comment on how image-saturated culture shapes the perception and treatment of women in society, examining the violence beneath the adoration. Drexler is critical of the ways in which women are portrayed in the media, and is fascinated by the complex and often contradictory roles that women inhabit in society.
The artist is represented by Garth Greenan Gallery, and her work can currently be seen in the group exhibition “Put it this Way: (Re)Visions of the Hirshhorn Collection” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, on view through September 4th.
B. 1929, Paris. Lives and works in Basel.
Marie-Thérèse Vacossin’s geometric abstract paintings create optical illusions through form and color. Inspired by the genre of Op Art (but not an Op artist herself), Vacossin’s paintings often feature seemingly vibrating forms that seem to move and change as the viewer’s perspective shifts, creating a sense of velocity through still compositions.
Vacossin’s paintings are distinctive for the artist’s use of bold colors and arrangement of hues into color fields. For example, in Poncy Aa1 (2019), her use of stripes and blocks is a way to place colors next to one another, creating a story based on their position on the color spectrum. Working with ideas associated with color field painting, Vacossin never allows the colors to merge with one another. This creates a visually loud, distinctive, and clean composition of works that allows each part to radiate with its own compositional intensity. She is represented by Oniris.art and Galerie La Ligne.
B. 1929, Hollabrunn, Austria. Lives and works in Bologna, Italy.
Working in poesia visiva (visual poetry), Greta Schödl is a painter and printmaker working primarily with text. Schödl’s compositions incorporate letters and symbols that she repeats to the point of creating visual abstractions which are further manipulated with gold leaf, dye, embroidery, and drawing.
Schödl’s work is often made on or mixed with paper found in her home or in the course of her research, showing the influence of her personal life on her work. Some of these texts are in Old German, referencing the artist’s Austrian heritage. At times, she also uses bed sheets, personal letters, and books. Schödl’s work functions like a palimpsest, erasing and adding new information to previous texts, acknowledging what was there previously, and where her interventions begin.
Though Schödl was included in the Venice Biennale exhibition in 1978, and the São Paulo Bienal in 1981, her work has still not been acknowledged for its groundbreaking challenge to the social constructs of language, though this has been a vibrant theme in recent critical thought. The artist is represented by Richard Saltoun.
B. 1930, New York. Lives and works in New York.
Multidisciplinary artist Susan Weil works across painting, printmaking, bookmaking, and installation. Indeed, Weil’s bold, experimental assemblages and photography heavily influenced artists of the mid–20th century, like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg (she was briefly married to the latter).
Playful and witty in tone, Weil’s three-dimensional, jumbled-up paintings comment on the mixed-up nature of space and time and the fluidity of these concepts. Her paintings are often arranged together with appropriated images, which she further combines with text, drawings, and found objects (such as picture frames or playing cards).
In her printmaking practice, Weil has worked with photolithography and cyanotypes (the latter of which she also produced in collaboration with Rauschenberg). These experiments led to her creating some dynamic handmade artist books that pushed the boundaries of the form with her creative, immersive designs. Since 2000, she has been represented by Sundaram Tagore Gallery.
B. 1927, Washington, D.C. Lives and works in Highland Beach, Maryland.
In her 1984 work Skybound, American painter Lilian Thomas Burwell cut into the blue-toned canvas to create positive and negative space, exploring how paintings can take up space without adding weight. This is typical of the artist’s practice—her shaped paintings often blur the line between the two disciplines of painting and sculpture.
Her artwork uses abstraction to create a personal, emotional response to the natural world that magnifies the intricacies of floral and botanical organisms. Burwell’s interest in nature is inspired by her family’s personal migration story from Washington, D.C., to Harlem, New York.
As her work with wall sculptures expanded throughout her career, Burwell added plexiglass to her process: She cuts the material with a power cutter and then places it in an industrial oven to soften. This base is then overlaid with the painted canvases. Burwell insists that none of these works are predetermined and that the whole process is akin to a dance where each brushstroke, cut, and placement is dependent on the previous step, creating a fluid piece of Abstract Expressionism. She is represented by Berry Campbell Gallery, where the artist had her New York debut solo show at the age of 93.
B. 1932, Osaka,. Lives and works in Osaka, and Gifu, Japan.
Best known for her realistic ceramic sculptures of beer cans, Kimiyo Mishima is a sculptor and printmaker who makes work resembling soft drink containers, cardboard packaging, discarded printed matter, and other byproducts of consumption. Mishima’s work expresses her anxieties around human wastefulness, while also breathing new life into these everyday objects of detritus. The artist began her practice as a teenager during World War II. The experience of living through air raids and having her hometown razed by bombs heavily shaped her practice, turning her artistic interest towards the waste left in the wake of destruction.
Mishima’s large-scale sculptures are often crafted from white porcelain onto which she silkscreens her original and appropriated images of advertising on top of the clay before it is fired in the kiln. The resulting sculptures are uncanny, appearing like authentic consumer products that have been blown up in size. At this scale, Mishima’s sculptures evoke toys, which could be read as a commentary on the superficiality of consumer objects or our lives, as if we humans were, in fact, the dolls.
B. 1933, Rio de Janeiro. Lives and works in Rio de Janeiro,.
Anna Bella Geiger, who was featured in the The Artsy Vanguard 2020, has a densely rich oeuvre including printmaking, painting, photography, film, collage, and installation. In particular, Geiger’s work foregrounds the arbitrary geographical boundaries of nation-state identity and how these can define and shape migration. Her groundbreaking work Native Brazil / Alien Brazil (1977), which combines postcards featuring images of Indigenous life, seems to take an anthropological interest in human behavior and satirizes historical diagrams found in natural history museums.
More recently, using cartography as a starting point, Geiger has incorporated elements related to ideas of borders and ecological crisis into her work. This can be seen in her mixed-media work on canvas EW18 COM XALE AZUL E FLOR DE LOTUS (DE LA SERIE MACIO) (2021), where a blue fishing net is embroidered onto a black ocean identified only by the two abstracted land bodies painted on either side of the black abyss. An earlier abstract painting from 1986, DA SÉRIE PIER & OCEAN COR ROSA,uses pink hues and red to depict an ocean that, similarly, could be the result of human interference. Her work was recently the subject of a retrospective at S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art, and since 2014 she has been represented by Mendes Wood DM.
B. 1933, Brisbane, Australia. Lives and works in Sydney.
Known for her vibrant, expressive paintings and sculptures, Ann Thomson challenges the conventions of traditional abstraction to give a form to indiscernible memories or experiences. While she rejects the label “abstract artist,” her loose brushwork creates abstracted forms, which give way to swirling lines of figuration that relate to the artist’s experiences, creating a personal map or record of her life in her work.
Though she is one of Australia’s most respected painters, Thomson also works with ceramics to produce sculptures that often resemble vases, plates, and vessels of some sort. She works with objects that are meaningful to her, which allows them to become a “recollection-object,” something that triggers a sense memory for the artist. Thomson’s eclectic use of color and form invites audiences into the slippery chaos of memory, as something that is always felt but struggles to be visualized. Thomson is represented by Charles Nodrum Gallery, among others.
B. 1931, New York. Lives and works in New York and East Hampton
In Audrey Flack’s expansive career, the artist has experimented with Photorealism, Abstract Expressionism, figurative Pop Art, and sculpture. However, Flack’s photorealistic paintings of still life and vanitas compositions made in the 1970s and ’80s are perhaps what she is best known for. In these works, the artist paints objects associated with a woman’s boudoir or vanity table, assemblages that sometimes reference a celebrity, as evident with Leonardo’s Lady (1974) which replicates Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière (1490–96), surrounded by jewelry, nail polish, and a glass of champagne.
Another, perhaps more well-known still life is Marilyn (Vanitas) (1997). This painting uses an older image of Marilyn Monroe (in her Norma Jean persona) as its focal point, creating a loving vigil for the starlet who had died 15 years prior. Flack’s body of work is entwined with her feminist politics and the artist uses her compositions, even her abstract works, to draw attention to women’s struggle for autonomy in the world. In her work Kashmir (1951), for instance, Flack primarily experimented with pink hues as a subtle commentary on the color’s association with femininity. Flack is currently represented by Hollis Taggart.