The National Gallery’s current Artemesia Gentileschi exhibition has made the title of this, Susie Hodge’s latest volume, all the more cogent. “Why”, asked Linda Nochlin in 1971, “have there been no great women artists?” And then along comes a film, Beyond the Visible by Halina Dryschka, that examines the almost unknown Hilma af Klint, who, the thesis goes, may have invented abstract art. Af Klint’s problem was two-fold: firstly, she was a woman and secondly, she was a medium who believed that her work was instructed by spirits. So, a witch, not an artist.
So, here we have two candidates, one of whom is a slam-dunk and the other at least a good contender. Susie adds a good selection of others. The title, by the way, fits with previous books, which have told the Short Stories of art, photography and architecture. It’s a series rather than a challenge, but challenging for all that.
Sensibly and honourably, Susie treats her subject like any other – that’s to say, as a piece of history. This isn’t a rant, or even a political statement, simply a well-told history of women in art, presented factually, chronologically and thematically. That women can be great artists is never in question. Put simply, here they are, admire their works.
The structure is simple and, as the title implies, concise. Single works are illustrated and summarised, usually in a single spread. All the major movements are here, as you would – or should – expect, from the Renaissance through Cubism and Dada to Performance and Conceptual Art. And, yes, Feminist Art. Susie also looks at the major breakthroughs: Equality, Independence, the Salon and so on, as well as themes which appear just as they would in any self-respecting art history.
This is an excellent guide to art history seen through a particular filter. It doesn’t attempt to be any more or less than that and is all the better for it. Simple arguments made coherently are always the most convincing.
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