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5 Women Artists Who Were Rejected Before They Made It Big
Look who’s laughing now…
Feature 04 Feb 2020

The last few years have seen women finally getting the retrospectives and major museum shows that they deserve. Decades after Linda Nochlin asked “Why Are There No Great Women Artists”, Dora Maar stepped out of Picasso’s shadow at Tate, and Judy Chicago reminded us just how important women artists are at Dior. So, finally, we’re beginning to realise that there are plenty of great women artists out there, and actually, there always have been. Nevertheless, women are still given less recognition than their male counterparts, and often have to jump through countless hoops just to get their points heard. Here we tell you about 5 women artists who were rejected before making it big!


Carmen Herrera

Carmen Herrera didn’t sell her first painting until the age of 89! She experienced rejection from a multitude of dealers, including a certain Rose Fried (yep, that’s right a lady!!), who had the audacity to refuse showing Herrera’s work because she was a woman (what kind of sisterhood is this!?). But Herrera is the one who’s laughing now, the Cuban artist is now represented by Lisson Gallery and has had works acquired by MoMA. She’s also since had a retrospective at the Whitney, has had public sculpture commissions by Manhattan’s City Hall Park, and is still making work at the age of 104!


Hilma af Klint

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“Hilma Af Klint: Paintings for the Future” has officially become the most-visited exhibition in the museum’s 60-year history.-ARTNEWS – 4/18/19 . . . Thank you, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum @guggenheim . A great tribute to @daniel.birnbaum , Johan af Klint & Tracey Bashkoff for having made this monumental exhibition come true. . And, of course, a special thank you to our visitors and supporters of Hilma af Klint’s work . The exhibit runs through the 23rd of April that’s this upcoming Tuesday, only a few days left! See you there! . @guggenheim . . . http://www.artnews.com/2019/04/18/guggenheims-hilma-af-klint-survey-is-most-popular-show-in-its-history/ . . . . . . #hilmaafklint #womenartist #visionary #pioneer #art #painting #femaleartist #surrealism #spiritual #sweden #mystic #modernart #modern #surreal #contemporaryart #scandinavianart #spiritualism #artist #abstractart #visionaryart #arthistory #fineart #exhibit #theosophy #spiritualism #femaleartist #sweden #swedishart

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Today Hilma Af Klint is lauded for her spiritual inspired painting, but when she was alive she was misunderstood. Encouraged by “high masters” (higher spirits), she felt compelled by these spirits to make abstract paintings for “the temple.” The work was initially rejected by philosophers however, and she never dared show any more work, believing that people were not ready to understand her paintings. And, she was right about that. When she died in 1944 she requested that her work be kept a secret for at least 20 years. In the 1970s, they were rejected as a gift by Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Thanks to Swedish art historians however, Af Klint’s work is now hugely celebrated. The artist has had solo exhibitions at LACMA, MoMA, Centre Pompidou and Serpentine.


Etel Adnan

Until being celebrated as an artist, Etel Adnan was known for her poetry, despite painting since her 20s in the 1950s. More than 50 years later, in 2014, the Lebanese-born artist had her own room at the Whitney Biennial. She has gone on to have solo exhibitions at London’s Serpentine Gallery, as well as in spaces including MASS MoCA and SFMoMA. 


Diane Simpson

Despite working with the Chicago Imagists in the 1960s, Diane Simpson didn’t get her big break until the 1980s, with a show called Samurai in 1983. Real recognition didn’t come until 2019 however, when she was featured in the Whitney Biennial and was given $25,000 as the winner of the Anonymous Was A Woman Award for women artists. 


Lisa Yuskavage

At the beginning of her career, Lisa Yuskavage received endless rejections and false starts and she felt like she was “circling the drain”. As she puts it, she worked on “not being a bitter asshole and kept looking at how to make work that was more and more my own.” (Wise words to live by) Yuskavage is now represented by David Zwirner and her work is in the collections of the Whitney, MoMA, The Met, The Hammer Museum and many others. 


Text Lizzy Vartanian

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