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Exhibition offers thumbnail of rise of women in contemporary art

7 December 2015
A new exhibition celebrating women artists has brought together 14 influential women to select their favourite artwork by a female from the University of Sydney’s J W Power collection. 

Women in Power is a free University Art Gallery show based on the bequest of J W Power.

Penelope Seidler stands in front of Helen Frankenthaler's Spoleto 1972

Penelope Seidler with Helen Frankenthaler's Spoleto 1972.

The exhibition also highlights the difficulties women have faced being accepted into significant art collections.

Women in Power is a free University Art Gallery exhibition based on the bequest of J W Power. Among the international and Australian artists featured are Martha Boto, Bridget Riley and a group of Yolngu women from Arnhem Land.

The works have been chosen by women from the arts and art philanthropy, law and business. They include High Court Justice Virginia Bell, University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, and arts benefactors Gene Sherman, Penelope Seidler and Naomi Milgrom.

Each selector has discussed their choice of artwork in the exhibition’s catalogue. In doing so, they draw on personal connections, political views, deeply held convictions and affinities with works.

“My selection…was inspired by my interest in women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and our need to create more opportunities for women in these fields,” writes Belinda Hutchinson. 

A sedge grass collecting bag by Judy Nakarrana Baypungala Mewana

Sedge grass collecting bag by Judy Nakarrana Baypungala Mewana. c. 1984

Virginia Bell relates her choices of Ramingining collecting bags to nine mortuary poles – also created by the Yolngu people – which stand in the foyer of the High Court. The latter was a gift from the descendants of Yolngu man Dhakiyarr, whose murder trial was acquitted in 1934 because it was believed sensational publicity around the case made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial.

Curator Ann Stephen from the University Art Gallery says 13.6 percent (fewer than 230) of works collected for the Power Collection are by women, a statistic she calls “dismal”. The Power Collection was acquired between 1967 and 1989, a time that Stephen says was marked by the second wave of feminism when women gained traction in the art world, though they still have a way to go.

“This exhibition nonetheless entails a theme of empowerment, offering a thumbnail sketch of the crucial era when, for the first time, women artists became a major presence in contemporary art.

Event details

What:                   Women in Power
Where:                 University Art Gallery, War Memorial Arch, Quadrangle, Science Road
When:                   7 December 2015 - 8 April 2016 (closed 18 Dec-3 Jan inclusive)
Opening hours:    Monday to Friday, 10am-4.30pm and some weekends
Contact:               02 93516883 or art.collection@sydney.edu.au 
 

Jocelyn Prasad

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