Let us now praise famous women : Museums finally find their feminine side

A wave of exhibitions of influential female artists begins this month on both sides of the Atlantic


Where are all the male artists? This question may possibly be on peoples’ minds for once as women dominate the cultural calendar this month. Cornelia Parker’s monumental installations mark the reopening of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery; Marlene Dumas’s stark portraits are set to draw blockbuster queues at Tate Modern; Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Nanas” continue their tour of leading museums, now travelling to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, while Louise Bourgeois is not getting one, but two surveys. Statistics show that most art institutions still favour works by male artists, but this month, many seem to have found their feminine side. Here is our selection of shows featuring works by leading female artists.

Marlene Dumas

The Image as Burden, Tate Modern, London 5 February-10 May

Artists tried everything in their power to get rid of it, from abstraction to Minimalism, but figurative painting is firmly en vogue. This major survey of South African-born, Amsterdam-based Dumas’s works, which is travelling to some of Europe’s leading institutions, will certainly further strengthen this trend. Delving into the darker facets of her subjects, Dumas’s portraits show Marilyn Monroe lying on a funerary slab and Christ on the Cross (right, Solo, 2011). “Marlene Dumas: the Image as Burden” travels to Tate Modern this month from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and will continue to the Fondation Beyeler, Basel (31 May-6 September). Each venue will show a different iteration of the exhibition.

Cornelia Parker

Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 14 February-31 May

Expect fireworks at the launch of Parker’s solo show at the Whitworth. For the opening, the British artist has designed a meteor display inspired by William Blake’s watercolour The Ancient of Days, around 1827, which is in the museum’s collection. The trigger is a breath-activated sensor created from graphene—the world’s strongest, thinnest, substance discovered at the University of Manchester—made from graphite from a Blake pencil drawing. The show includes Cold Dark Matter: an Exploded View (1991, above) made from fragments of Parker’s detonated garden shed, and a new group of “Bullet” and “Poison and Antidote” drawings, made with melted bullets and rattlesnake venom. The show marks the museum’s reopening after a £15m transformation.

Niki de Saint Phalle

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao 27 February-7 June

For Niki de Saint Phalle, who died in 2002, the “Nanas”, her curvy, colourful sculptures of female figures, represented “an amplified world of women, women’s delusions of grandeur, women in power” (below, Leaping Nana, 1970). This show at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao seeks to restore the feminist edge to the Franco-American artist’s most famous series and reveal the spikier, more political side of her work. Around 200 pieces span the range of her career from the “Shooting Pictures” she performed at happenings in the 1960s to her monumental Tarot Garden in Tuscany. The show includes loans from the Sprengel Museum, Hanover, and the Mamac in Nice, which received major donations from the artist in her lifetime.

Lynda Benglis

Hepworth Wakefield 6 February-5 July

Lynda Benglis’s (in)famous nude self-portrait with a dildo, which appeared as a centrefold advert in a 1974 issue of Artforum, was then denounced by five of the magazine’s editors as an “object of extreme vulgarity”. More than four decades on, it appears as a milestone of feminist art history in her first major British retrospective at one of the UK’s newest museums, the Hepworth Wakefield. In an arrangement reflecting the locations that have influenced her, around 50 works will show the Greek-American artist’s ongoing exploration of materials, from her early poured latex floor paintings—a technique (below) for which she was hailed by Life magazine as “heir to Pollock” in 1970—to as-yet unseen paper sculptures and ceramics. Video and photography will also feature.

Doris Salcedo

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 21 February-24 May

The timing of the first retrospective of the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo is tragically apposite in view of recent terrorist atrocities. For 30 years, she has been responding to political violence and oppression in her work, which she makes from everyday materials such as furniture and clothing. The work Plegaria Muda (mute prayer), 2008-10 (right), for example, made of stacked tables with grass growing between the cracks, came out of research into the deaths of youths in violent neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, and the Colombian military’s murder of young men from the country’s remote regions. The show travels to the Guggenheim Museum, New York (26 June-12 October) and Pérez Art Museum Miami (6 May-23 October 2016).

Louise Bourgeois

I Have Been to Hell and Back, Moderna Museet, Stockholm 14 February-17 May

Structures of Existence: the Cells, Haus der Kunst, Munich 27 February-2 August

Louise Bourgeois has double billing this month with shows opening in Stockholm and Munich. Around 100 works that invoke trauma, anxiety, sexuality and motherhood squirm together under the title “I Have Been to Hell and Back” at the Moderna Museet. Meanwhile, different types of pain are the subject of Bourgeois’s show “Structures of Existence: the Cells” at the Haus der Kunst, the first show to focus on the “Cell” series, which she began in the late 1980s. These small, enclosed architectural forms, which viewers can sometimes enter (left, Bourgeois inside Articulated Lair, 1986), combine found objects with sculptural elements that held particular significance for the artist. Not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic.

Taryn Simon

Jeu de Paume, Paris

24 February-17 May

After Simon’s major 2011 survey at Tate Modern at the age of 36, her arresting photographs now travel to the Jeu de Paume for the US artist’s first major show in France. It will present five series including “The Innocents”, 2002, a project that came about while Simon was working for The New York Times photographing exonerated death row inmates (above, Larry Mayes, Scene of Arrest). Three videos will also be on show: Exploding Warhead, 2007, The Innocents, 2002, and Cutaways, 2012.