Women Look at Women at Richard Saltoun Gallery

With a string of all-female shows popping up in London at the moment, I've been very interested, if not cynical, to see how many of them are substance over style, and truthfully so far it's been about half and half. I wanted to explore Richard Saltoun Gallery's new space, W1S, as their reputation for showcasing pioneering European female artists suggests they will be very comfortable with such a project. While the title, 'Women Look at Women' is slightly uninspiring, their inclusion of some world-renowned feminist artists from the twentieth century sets them apart.

Richard Saltoun Gallery have always put on museum-quality exhibitions, and this one inaugurating their new Mayfair space is no different; the setup of the rooms are somewhere between a domestic and Tate Modern feel, which is certainly pleasing and welcoming to the viewer. The show stakes its claim to assess the female condition through the eyes of female practitioners, which of course makes a lot of sense; it is the curator's use of the word "feminine" instead of "female" which is a puzzling choice, as it seems to marginalise women who may not identify with it. Perhaps this is an oversight. Renate Bertlmann's fifty-three piece photographic installation 'Verwandlungen (Transformations)' is a fairly pedestrian start to a show promising to expose angles on the female condition, as the artist poses in an array of different outfits and expressions; the fact that the work ranges from 1969 to 2013 enhances it, as it resembles an historic Instagram profile.

Francesca Woodman, Early 1972-1975, E03. Gelatin silver print, 12cm x 12cm. Richard Saltoun Gallery, London.

It is always a real treat to see Francesca Woodman's work, even if it is something of a no-brainer to include her poignant photography in an exhibition about the female gaze. After her suicide aged just 22, her practice became prolific for providing a candid look at not only the female body but its place in domestic and everyday settings. In 'Early 1972-1975, E03', pegs pulling the body's skin sharply in different directions suggest violence and a masochism which is difficult to convey visually. Another highlight is Helen Chadwick, whose work stands out for more reasons than just being the only work that isn't wall-based. Her 'Ego Geometria Sum' series immortalises various stages of the artist's life, from birth to the age of thirty; the fact that she died suddenly aged 42 gives another layer of depth to the work but in isolation they are still beautifully crafted and a wonderful item of art history. As photographic emulsion on plywood, the pieces are delicate yet distinctive and bold.

I am very much looking forward to seeing more exhibitions dominated by female artists without the sole remit being producing a female-only platform. Richard Saltoun Gallery's exhibition has a strong standing due to the quality of the respective artists, and what they have to add to the general narrative of art made by women. This may seem like a divisive stance where the goal is to include women into the canon but this seems to be the way in which galleries are making this happen, so I will be watching to see how effective it is and how it grows into meaningful change in representation. 

Annegret Soltau, Selbst II, 1-12 (Self II, 1-12), 1975. 12 black and white photographs on baryta paper, mounted on cardboard, 51.5cm x 101.5cm (each). Richard Saltoun Gallery, London.

You might also like...