Browse by Themes

Abstraction: A Man’s Affair?
Major Questions in Art History
08.05.2020 | Nina Meisel

Bridget Riley, For Genji, 1995/1996, oil on linen canvas, 165 x 228.6 cm, © Rights reserved, © Cnap, © Photo: Ville de Grenoble / Musée de Grenoble-J.L. Lacroix

Abstraction was the artistic revolution of the 20th century. Influenced by the development of quantum physics and heir to Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism, it emerged as the main innovation of the era. The movement revitalised traditional codes of painting and sculpture by dismantling the image in order to sacralise pure form and colour. In the history of art origins of abstraction coincide with the production of Untitled by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) in 1910, and later by young artists such as František Kupka (1871-1957), Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) who progressively abandoned the representation of reality to retain only its essence and emotion. According to art historical narratives, women artists were said to not have grasped the codes of this movement. However, Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) abandoned figurative compositions as early as 1905. Her work was only rediscovered in 1986 during the exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 at LACMA in Los Angeles, where she was presented as a pioneer of abstraction. Her mystical painting as well as the meditative practice of Agnes Martin (1912-2004) are testament to the relentless research on the essentialisation of the artistic gesture.

Certain women artists, like their male counterparts, used colour to explore representation of form. Painter and sculptor Marlow Mosse (1890-1958) played with orthogonal and diagonal lines, which she duplicated in 1930 before finally detaching herself to experiment with lightness and reliefs in white. Aurélie Nemours (1910-2005) was also a monochrome painter who preferred white to bright colours. The pictorial research of Italian artist Carla Accardi (1924-2014), a proponent of realistic figuration, transcended colour by first deepening her study of black and white before turning to fluorescent colours in the 1970s.

Lebanese artist Saloua Rauoda Choucair (1916-2017) linked her artistic quest with Sufi Islamic traditions. For her, the absence of figuration was what brought the work to the essence of thought. In this pictorial revolution the pursuit for form constituted a movement apart: geometric abstraction in which women artists fully took part. Of Romanian origins, Natalia Dumistresco (1915-1997) played with geometry, round, square and other contrasting lines to offer kaleidoscopic visions. Through photography, assemblage and drawing, Bĕla Kolářová (1923-2010) questioned the structures of objects that she diverted from their original function. She invented her own means of creation, including the artificial negative where the image was born solely through the use of a darkroom. Vera Molnár (b. 1924), a Hungarian kinetic artist, carried out artistic experiments using computers.

This “half suicidal of the creative genius of this century,” as Lea Vergine wrote, has only been rediscovered belatedly. Recent exhibitions have paid homage to these women abstractionists, such as Empathy and Abstraction: Modernist Women in Germany at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Bielideld in 2015 and 2016; Making Space: Women Artists ad Postwar Abstraction in 2017 at the MoMa in New York; or even more recently Femmes années 50 : Au fil de l’abstraction, peinture et sculpture at the Musée Soulage in Rodez, France in 2020.

Artists
Explore the artists
1895 — 1981 | France
Marcelle Cahn - AWARE

Marcelle Cahn

1923 — 2010 | Czech Republic
Bĕla  Kolářová - AWARE

Bĕla Kolářová

1924 | Hungary
Vera Molnár - AWARE

Vera Molnár

1890 — 1958 | United Kingdom
Marlow Moss - AWARE

Marlow Moss

1910 — 2005 | France
Aurélie Nemours - AWARE

Aurélie Nemours

1924 — 2014 | Italy
Carla Accardi - AWARE

Carla Accardi

1931 | United Kingdom
Bridget Riley - AWARE

Bridget Riley

1935 — 2018 | France
Geneviève Claisse - AWARE

Geneviève Claisse

1950 | Estonia
Sirje Runge - AWARE

Sirje Runge

1915 — Romania | 1997 — France
Natalia Dumitresco - AWARE

Natalia Dumitresco

1912 — Canada | 2004 — United States
Agnes Martin - AWARE

Agnes Martin

1923 — 2021 | France
Geneviève Asse - AWARE

Geneviève Asse

1930 — 2005 | Belgium
Marthe Wéry - AWARE

Marthe Wéry

1899 — 1986 | Denmark
Franciska Clausen - AWARE

Franciska Clausen

1862 — 1944 | Sweden
Hilma af Klint - AWARE

Hilma af Klint

1915 | Cuba
Carmen Herrera - AWARE

Carmen Herrera

1909 — Sweden | 1987 — France
Anna-Eva Bergman - AWARE

Anna-Eva Bergman

1916 — 2017 | Lebanon
Saloua Raouda  Choucair - AWARE

Saloua Raouda Choucair

1877 — 1952 | United States
Katherine Dreier - AWARE

Katherine Dreier

1918 — 1989 | United States
Elaine de Kooning - AWARE

Elaine de Kooning

1932 — 2005 | Japan
Atsuko Tanaka - AWARE

Atsuko Tanaka

1907 — 2007 | United States
Lenore Tawney - AWARE

Lenore Tawney

1910 — Canada | 1997 — United States
Ida Lansky - AWARE

Ida Lansky

1891 — 1978 | United States
Alma Woodsey Thomas - AWARE

Alma Woodsey Thomas

1900 — 1981 | Italy
Bice Lazzari - AWARE

Bice Lazzari

1936 | Palestine
Samia Halaby - AWARE

Samia Halaby

1911 — Denmark | 1984 — France
Sonja Ferlov Mancoba - AWARE

Sonja Ferlov Mancoba

1912 — German Empire | 2000 — Germany
Marta Hoepffner - AWARE

Marta Hoepffner

1912 — 1986 | Switzerland
Verena Loewensberg - AWARE

Verena Loewensberg

1937 | Austria
Tess Jaray - AWARE

Tess Jaray

1936 | United States
Barbara Kasten - AWARE

Barbara Kasten

1929 — 2015 | Norway
Inger Sitter - AWARE

Inger Sitter

1930 — 2004 | Italy
Dadamaino (Eduarda Emilia Maino, dite) - AWARE

Dadamaino (Eduarda Emilia Maino, dite)

1940 — 1985 | Korea
Wook-kyung Choi - AWARE

Wook-kyung Choi

1939 — 2015 | United States
Rosemarie Castoro - AWARE

Rosemarie Castoro

1814 — Spain | 1884 — United Kingdom
Georgiana Houghton - AWARE

Georgiana Houghton

1929 — 2018 | United States
Marcia Hafif - AWARE

Marcia Hafif

1903 — 1974 | Turkey
Aliye Berger - AWARE

Aliye Berger

1897 — Germany | 1983 — Switzerland
Gunta Stölzl - AWARE

Gunta Stölzl

1932 | Canada
Dorothea Rockburne - AWARE

Dorothea Rockburne

1885 — 1963 | United Kingdom
Helen Saunders - AWARE

Helen Saunders

1927 | United States
Lillian Schwartz - AWARE

Lillian Schwartz

See more
Explore

Archives
of Women Artists
Research
& Exhibitions

Facebook - AWARE Twitter - AWARE Instagram - AWARE
Villa Vassilieff - 21, avenue du Maine 75015 Paris (France) — info[at]aware-art[.]org — +33 (0)1 55 26 90 29