Frankly Feminist February

I am fumbling for words to describe the two very different exhibitions that I have had the chance to see over the last couple of weeks. The first was ‘Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970’s’ which has just finished at The Photographer’s Gallery in London. The second was Josef Frank, which has just opened at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey.

I was really glad I was in adult company for the former, as obviously the artists were very much exploring the physical representation of the female body. As interesting as it was, I could really feel the influence of the times in terms of technique and expression. There was a freshness to the imagery, knowing that this was the first time many ideas were explored photographically, and I thought I would share some of the work that stood out to me here.

In the first room, I really liked a series by Karin Mack ‘ Destruction of an Illusion’ where a stereotypical housewife is pierced by needles, the image breaking down. A simple idea, but it looked vicious and engaging at the same time.


Karin Mack

Another image I noted was by Sanja Ivekovic – I was drawn to the strange intimacy of the series of pictures and the narrative of the idea. The artist has her mouth taped, and her heartbeat was transmitted into the gallery area. As she interacts with each viewer, it is photographed and accompanied by the corresponding audiotape.


I really liked the small scale ‘Female Energy Exchange’ by Ulrike Rosenbach – these were composite images based on Venus, Medusa and Supergirl where the artist had projected herself over well known images. One of them was slightly solarized, and I thought they worked well as both a concept and a triptych.


Penny Slinger’s Bride Cake Series brought to mind the idea of having your cake and eating it – and also one of my favourite books, Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Edible Woman’ -the ideas are both playful and macabre in terms of the role of women. Have times really changed though?


What really stood out to me though I suppose because I’ve always wanted to see them in person and am a fan of their work anyway, were the prints of Francesca Woodman and the little film by Cindy Sherman. From my notes, I think it was the caption’s words and not mine that describe Woodman’s work as ‘lyrical, poetic and iconographic tableaux vivaits’ but it’s a pretty perfect description.


I’m not sure if I can put the Cindy Sherman film here, but it’s called ‘Doll Clothes’ and was made in 1975. It still looks fresh, and has none of the heavy-handedness of some of the other work.

Doll Clothes

The second exhibition made a fairly big impression on my sketchbook – I had a couple of hours just to immerse myself in the glorious colour and detail that is the work of Josef Frank. Born in Vienna and displaced by World War II to Sweden, this trained architect had a brilliant eye for pattern an colour. The show begins with an amazing room set that quite clearly shows Frank’s influence on the Swedish brand Ikea. Astonishingly, I picked up an interiors magazine which said a dark green called ‘Kale’ was the colour for 2017. The dark green of the wall in this room display brings all the colours and patterns to life.


I loved Frank’s use of hot colours in ‘Mistral’which really sing out on top of a natural linen. ‘Fruhling’ which means ‘Spring’ was interesting as you could see how the wood block was used to make a seamless repeat. The colours of turquoise and purpley brown had me reaching for the colour pencils. My favourite from this first area was ‘Poison’ which used strong colour backgrounds – barley on a blue field, vines against bright red. The yellow twirling vines had a lovely fluidity and these gentle shapes seemed to recur as a motif.


Frank’s first screen print was amazingly complex – called ‘ Three Islands in the Black Sea’ I loved the strong citrusy orange with blue against black. It looked incredibly modern despite the date of 1935.


One of the final images I drew was ‘Manhattan’. I liked the graphic use of maps and the primary colours – the familiarity of the map made me think about other ways I could be inspired by this, and I left humming..


New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun’.
New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!


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