As one of the most culturally important periods of the 20th-century, 1960s art witnessed the rise of the movements which re-shaped and formed new aesthetics and styles, from pop to feminist art. The tumultuous decade of the ‘60s saw women artists redefining themselves, breaking the male gaze and helping to narrate the feminist, sociological, and political movements of the decade.
Here we shine a light on 7 trailblazing female artists of the 60s
Agnes Bernice Martin, RCA, born in 1912, was a Canadian-born American abstract painter. Her work has been defined as an “essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence”. Although she is often thought to be a minimalist, Martin considered herself as an abstract expressionist.It was while living in New York that Martin became interested in modern art and was exposed to artists such as Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, and Joan Miró. The Canadian artist developed her independent style by the early 1960s, staying in voluntary isolation. Her rare works of acrylic and graphite on canvas are about light, fusion and formlessness. Friendship from 1963 is one of her most iconic works of art, and a defining piece of the decade. Spanning just over six feet on each side, Friendship is one of three paintings Martin made with gold leaf and gesso, materials rich with historical associations that stand out in an era defined by commercial images and industrial production.
The Japanese contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama was a significant force of the avant-garde art scene in the 1960s. Her “happenings” during the 1960s were revolutionary, in particularher work titled Narcissus Garden of 1966, which the artist performed on the world stage at the Venice Biennale. Comprised of a total of 1500 mirror orbs made from plastic and laid on the ground, people were left to wonder if it was a show or an installation. Kusama stood amongst the orbs during the show and sold them for two dollars each. In turn visitors would walk away with a piece of Kusama’s art, but where does the work live on?
Elaine Sturtevant also known professionally as Sturtevant, was an American artist who gained fame for her copies of other artists’ works. Since 1964, Sturtevant has appropriated the work of her male contemporaries to question the hierarchy of gender, originality, and authorship, as well as the structures of art and culture. She initially focused on works by such American artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol.
Vija Clemins (1938) is among the most famous female painters from Lithuania. The visual artist is best known for photo-realistic paintings and drawings of natural environments, such as the ocean, spider webs, star fields, and rocks. In 1965, after refusing to accept the predominant Formalism, she started to create illusionistic and magical paintings and drawings so realistic to be mistaken for photographs. Now based in New York City, she has been the subject of over forty solo exhibitions since 1965, and major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Dame Maria Paula Figueiroa Rego, born in 1935 is a Portuguese-born visual artist who is known for her paintings and prints based on children’s folktales. The only woman in The London Group, her educated and refined paintings and prints has challenged her audience for decades. Rego’s style evolved from semi-abstract in the 1960s towards representational, from oil paint and collage to pastels, reflecting feminism, a world of pain but also a ferocious satire, coloured by folk-themes from her native Portugal.
Bridget Louise Riley CH CBE, born in 1931, is an English painter known for her singular op art paintings. Bridget Riley, born in 1931, became the star of Op Art in 1965 after her inclusion in the 1965 exhibition “The Responsive Eye” at The Museum of Modern Art. Sheevolved the op art style throughout the 60s in which she explored the dynamic potentialities of the optical phenomena. Her ‘Op-art‘ pieces, such as Fall, 1963 (Tate Gallery T00616), produce a disorienting physical effect on the eye. The black and white period with geometric formal repertory is her career’s most famous phase which led her to be the first woman painter ever to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1968.
Yoko Ono Lennon, born in 1933 is a Japanese multimedia artist, singer, songwriter and peace activist. Her work also encompasses performance art, which she performs in both English and Japanese, and filmmaking. Blending her creative force and artistic expression with activism and performance, Yoko Ono’s art pioneered the ideas of feminism in artistic practice. Staged in 1964, one of her most famous works was the Cut Piece, where the members of the audience were invited to cut off pieces of her clothing until she was naked, thus making an abstract commentary on discarding materialism and its impact on society.