Sundaram Tagore Singapore is pleased to announce the landmark exhibition To Be a Lady: An International Celebration of Women in the Arts. Curated by Jason Andrew, the exhibition brings together an international selection of historic, mid-career, and emerging women artists born over the last century. Striking artworks by celebrated masters including Shirley Goldfarb, Louise Nevelson, Alice Neel and Helen Frankenthaler are juxtaposed with international stars such as Ghada Amer, Zhang Hui, Shirin Neshat and Yin Xiuzhen, setting the stage for a global exhibition designed to challenge and reshape the meaning of the word “lady.”
For much of the last hundred years, women have been at the forefront of social and political reform worldwide. Whether Western suffragettes or activists in the Arab Spring, women have played and continue to play pivotal roles in bringing about revolutionary change. Their art and activism pushes beyond ideological lines, re-shaping and redefining the world we live in. Their art has come to empower women in all fields of society, continuing to ignite debate about inequality, poverty and social exclusion.
Historically, the term “lady” was a polite title bestowed on women of high social class or status. This show offers a bold new look at what it means to be a lady, presenting works that rub up against conventions and challenge the notions of what it means to be “lady-like,” emphasizing the bold rather than the conformist.
The word lady, here, is a provocation. For much of the early twentieth century, and particularly in America, women were up against the "lady painter" image, which noted American historian Linda Nochlin suggests was "…established in 19th century etiquette books and reinforced by the literature of the times.” (1) Today, despite what might appear to be great progress for women in the arts, these societal expectations continue. As seminal painter Lee Krasner said, “I’m an artist not a woman artist.” (2)
For women in the arts worldwide, as in many other fields, a special fortitude and commitment can be seen in the work and lives of those who succeed. Every artist must overcome boundaries. Some boundaries are overtly stated and others, the result of traditional expectations imposed over time, have gone unquestioned. For many women, it has been a grueling battle for recognition—a battle that continues even today. Although there has been an increase in the number of women artists shown by institutions and represented by galleries worldwide, these numbers are nowhere near equal to the number of shows given to men.
To Be a Lady celebrates women on an international scale as they continue to break the mold, re-write history, and modernize what it means to be a “lady.” The exhibition includes works by historic, mid-career and emerging American artists, as well as work by prominent international artists from China, Egypt, Iceland, Singapore, South Africa and the UK, offering a global representation of works by women. The curatorial selection is interdisciplinary, multi-media and cross-generational with seminal works by each artist reminding us that the world is full of great artists—and many of them happen to be ladies.
To Be a Lady is organized by Sundaram Tagore Gallery in collaboration with the New York-based nonprofit arts organization Norte Maar. A 2012 version of this exhibition was funded by and presented in New York at the 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery in partnership with 1285 Avenue of the Americas and Jones Lang LaSalle.
(1) Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” ARTNews 69 (January 1971).
(2) Michael Kernan, “Out of Pollock’s Shadow: Her Life & Art Seen Whole at Last,” Washington Post, October 23, 1983, L1.