Fundación Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao (ES)   22 October 2021 - 27 February 2022

Women in abstraction

After the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France, The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Women in Abstraction, an exhibition that shares a new vision of the history of abstraction from its origins to the 1980s through the works of more than one hundred female artists that span visual arts, dance, photography, film, and decorative arts. By way of a chronological analysis, the exhibit highlights the processes that led to the invisibility of female artists and points out some of the milestones that marked the history of abstraction, while questioning esthetic canons, without defining a new one.

Curators: Christine Macel (Centre Pompidou, Paris, France) and Karolina Lewandowska (Museum of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland) in collaboration with Lekha Hileman Waitoller (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain)

Women in Abstraction goes beyond the idea that art history is a succession of pioneering practices, and by according female artists a new place within that history, it proves how complex and diverse it is. This can be seen at the very beginning of the exhibition which opens with an unprecedented foray into the 19th century presenting the rediscovery of Georgiana Houghton’s work from the 1860s, undermining the chronological origins of abstraction by tracing it back to its spiritualist roots. It then showcases some leading figures through mini-monographs that highlight artists rarely exhibited in Europe or unjustly eclipsed. Particular attention is given to the specific contexts which have surrounded, favoured or, on the contrary, limited the recognition of “women artists” – contexts that are simultaneously educational, social and institutional. The exhibition explains why many "women artists" did not necessarily seek recognition. It then returns to the positions of the artists themselves, with their complexities and their paradoxes. Some, like Sonia Delaunay-Terk, went beyond gender, while others, as in the case of Judy Chicago, lay claim to a "feminine" art.

Women in Abstraction also raises several questions. The first concerns the very term of the subject: what exactly is abstraction? Another deals with the causes of the specific processes that made women invisible in the history of abstraction that still prevails today. Can we continue to isolate “women artists” in a separate history when we would like this history to be polyvocal and non-gendered?

View of Joan Mitchell's artwork in Guggenheim Museum Biblbao's rooms
© Courtesy Guggenheim Biblbao

Work on loan

Untitled [Sans titre]