Abstraction: Celebrating Australian Women Abstract Artists opens at Newcastle Art Gallery

A different sensibility: Lara Nicholls, from the NGA, in front of a Margaret Worth painting, at the installation of Abstraction in Newcastle Art Gallery. Picture: Marina Neil

A different sensibility: Lara Nicholls, from the NGA, in front of a Margaret Worth painting, at the installation of Abstraction in Newcastle Art Gallery. Picture: Marina Neil

It is all about women artists for the next month at Newcastle Art Gallery. A new show, Abstraction: Celebrating Australian Women Abstract Artists, officially opens on Saturday, featuring 74 works from 38 artists.

“This exhibition reveals the remarkable contribution Australian women artists have made to abstract art through a wide range of media,” Newcastle Art Gallery manager Lauretta Morton says.

The show features works from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. It has been curated by Lara Nicholls, assistant curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture at the NGA, who was in Newcastle for the installation and launch this week.

Among the artists represented in the show are Yvonne Audette, Dorrit Black, Dora Chapman, Virginia Coventry, Grace Crowley, Virginia Cuppaidge, Janet Dawson, Lesley Dumbrell, Elizabeth Gower, Emily Kam Kngwarray, Margo Lewers, Margaret Preston and Margaret Worth.

“Really, a lot of these artists were underrecognised if you like,” Nicholls says. “They were never really as appreciated as their male counterparts, so their price structures were less, they were never documented in survey shows as much, not exhibited in state and regional galleries as much.

“It’s been an interesting exercise to do this because many of the works were brought out of storerooms and exhibited for the first time in a very long time. It’s been an interesting reappraisal of the contribution women have actually made.”

It’s been an interesting exercise to do this because many of the works were brought out of storerooms and exhibited for the first time in a very long time. - NGA curator Lara Nicholls

The show includes works from several significant artists that Newcastle Art Gallery also has holdings from, including Shay Docking, Denise Green, Kitty Kantilla, Norma Redpath and Aida Tomescu.

The NGA collection of Australian women abstraction artists was  assisted by acquisitions made by director James Mollison.  “He was visionary and egalitarian,” Nicholls says.

“I think there is a different sensibility in women’s [Abstract] painting,” Nicholls says. “Definitely in the ’70s they were exploring other themes in relation to feminism. They were exploring ideas of women’s work as well. They would take the motif of quilting, knitting or crocheting - the classic women’s industries if you like – and then they would make work out of it.”

Several pieces are conversation starters. For instance, the piece by Elizabeth Gower.

“This is a fabulous abstraction of domestic life in her house when she was having children,” Nicholls says. “Her with a  baby, living in Tasmania , receiving lots of junk mail in her letterbox, stuff all over her house, so much happening, the detritus of domestic life when you have children.

“She translated it just using line and colour into an abstraction of that experience. That is quite classic of what some of the women artists will do.”

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