Fab, fierce, feminist artists taking over this year’s Art Basel

Art Basel, one of the world’s biggest art shows, opens this week in Miami Beach and the art world is understandably aflutter. One big reason for the charge of excitement is a renewed focus by the show on feminist artists. Hooray, we say.

One of the shows within Art Basel generating particular excitement for its feminist perspective is “Survey,” which focuses on female and feminist artists who came to prominence in the late 20th century. “Survey” features four group presentations and nine solo shows — nine of the 19 artists featured are women. Other shows at Art Basel also appear to be emphasizing the contributions of female artists — this focus on women is a needed and important gesture by Art Basel.

To break things down a little: men in the art world (as in most worlds) traditionally have the leg up. They get more museum wall space, their names comprise more of the “greats,” and their work sells for more money. Of course, this is not because the ladies are any less talented, it’s just the unsavory nature of the current game. Putting work by women and feminists into the spotlight is a good step in righting these wrongs.

In honor of Art Basel, here are some of our very favorite artists being shown in Miami this week. They’re worth checking out, whether IRL or from the comfort of the Interwebz. Happy viewing.

Niki de Saint Phalle

A lot of amazing sculptors will be shown in “Survey” and Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is one of them. This French artist became famous for her sculptures of “Nanas,” a French slang term for women. Her sculptures, sometimes referred to as dolls, were made from all kinds of materials, including papier-maché, yarn, and fabrics. They explored women’s role in society, particularly as it related to birth and motherhood. Valerie Georges-Phillipe & Nathalie Vallois will be showing her work.

Gina Pane

Also included in the “Survey” show is a four-woman show of French conceptual artist Gina Pane, American painter Rosemari Castoro, Japanese-Brazilian artist Lydia Okumura, and Brazilian Lenora De Barros.

Pane was part of the body art movement, and is famous for her performance pieces. These shocking “actions,” as she called them, often involved self-mutilation and pain-related performances that discussed the male gaze and beauty. One of them, “The Conditioning,” was even recreated by esteemed performance artist Marina Abramovic (who will also be at Art Basel this year).

Lynda Benglis

Artist Lynda Benglis will be featured in the “Conversations” sector this year. Benglis is a renowned sculptor whose work questions sexuality, progress, place, and more. Her multimedia works have shocked and challenged the art world for decades with her expressive sculptures exploring space, color, texture, and substance.

Some of her most famous pieces feature poured concrete, and are titled as the names of famous feminists. In it, she’s questioning how these women are perceived and used by society. Some of her other works are graphic, sexual, and shocking — worth a Google search, but definitely NSFW.

In “Conversations,” she will be talking with Suzanne Weaver, Interim Director of the ICA, Miami, another art world luminary, about how far we’ve come, and how far there is still to go.

Lee Materazzi

Lee Materazzi is an American artist who works primarily in photography and videography. Materazzi will be sharing this work as part of the Auto Body show (warning: NSFW). Auto Body is a four-day video showcase and performance piece that features 33 female artists and is debuting during Art Basel. Auto Body has made a lot of noise about the underrepresentation of women in the art world, so they’re hosting a kind of alternative fair in the spirit of Art Basel.

Materazzi will be showing a video piece called “Blender,” which she completed in 2010. In it, she questions the routines that she learned from watching her mother. Simple and typically feminine tasks, like baking a cake or doing laundry, go awry in her re-imagining. “Blender” brings into focus how women learn these skills, and with them, their place.

Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas is one of the most important new artists of the 21st century, and she’s going be part of the “Kabinett” sector at this year’s fair. She’ll be represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Thomas’ work often explores the aesthetics of womanhood through her perception of her mother, Sandra Bush. Her mother has been Thomas’ muse in many of her works. The gravitational center of Thomas’ conceptual exploration. “I Was Born to Do Great Things” is a tribute to Bush, her passion, and her style.

These women’s works have helped redefine art in the 20th and 21st centuries, allowing female artists to really establish their place in the art world. By talking so openly, so directly, and so creatively about female sexuality and place, they’ve helped and are helping give younger artists a place. Art Basel is doing its part to help roll these wheels of progress forward.

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