Bridget Riley … ripe for a retrospective. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

Damien Hirst, Lucian Freud, David Hockney … they may be very different artists but they have something in common, apart from the fact that all have blockbuster exhibitions this spring. A certain universality and ambition, an ability to voice the experience of Everyman … Wait a moment. Yes, it is Everyman. After all the revolutions in art over the last couple of centuries, the gender bias is apparently as deep as ever.

This year – quite apart from the Cultural Olympiad that will foreground artists like, er, Mr Anish Kapoor and Mr Martin Creed – a crop of big exhibitions are focusing not so much on the diversity and energy of British art as on the greats, the big boys … and boys they are. Women play a big part in modern British art. But when it comes to awarding the gold, silver and bronze medals the idea of excellence in art remains as macho as it was in the days of Michelangelo, Rodin, Rothko. Why is that?

Oddly enough, the only blockbuster British art star of this season who is not a man is Gillian Wearing, showing at the Whitechapel Gallery, whose director Iwona Blazwick is also a woman. Is there a male conspiracy elsewhere? I think it is more that ideas of greatness in art are so steeped in centuries of sexism that their effect is as hard to pin down as it is vicious. Women are judged differently.

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