LAST CHANCE TO SEE!

The Heong Gallery will reopen by PRE-BOOKING ONLY on 22 and 23 August 2020.

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE BOOKING

  1. Entrance will be to the Gallery only. Visitors are not permitted to enter other parts of Downing College.
  2. You must arrive within half an hour of the start time of your booked time slot.
  3. Groups of more than 3 people are not permitted.
  4. Face coverings must be worn over the nose and mouth at all times while in the Gallery.
  5. Contact details must be provided for Track and Trace purposes upon entering the Gallery. Details will only be used in case of a confirmed infection.
  6. Visitors must use hand sanitiser provided upon entering the Gallery.
  7. Visitors must keep 2 metres apart. Floor signs will be in place to help judge distance.
  8. A one-way system will be in operation throughout the Gallery.
  9. There are no toilet facilities for visitors.

DO NOT ENTER COLLEGE IF YOU:

  1. Are feeling unwell.
  2. Have a fever or persistent cough.
  3. Have lost your sense of taste or smell.

PLEASE CANCEL ANY PRE-BOOKED TICKETS IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO VISIT. TICKETS WILL BE AVAILABLE TO RE-BOOK ONLINE IMMEDIATELY.

Book your timed-entry ticket.

Profile: Helen Ritchie

We asked 6 Cambridge women who bring Contemporary Art to the city to tell us about what they do.

Helen Ritchie (Curatorial Associate, Department of Applied Arts, The Fitzwilliam Museum)

What do you do for Contemporary Art in Cambridge?

My role as Curatorial Associate in the Department of Applied Arts at The Fitzwilliam Museum involves managing, researching, displaying, and interpreting a huge variety of applied arts objects but I am primarily responsible for pieces made in Europe from 1800 to the present day. Contemporary art is only part of what I do, but I feel consistently excited and engaged by it, whether that’s acquiring contemporary works of art from artists and dealers or working collaboratively with artists to create temporary exhibitions and displays, or events. Moving forwards, the Museum is keen to engage more meaningfully with contemporary art, made by artists from around the world, in order to enable us to explore more diverse perspectives within our permanent collection and temporary displays. You can read more about some of our recent acquisitions here.

How did you come to work in Contemporary Art?

I came to curatorial work through an unusual route (a degree in English and a Master’s degree in curation of fashion and historic dress). Working specifically in contemporary art has been a natural extension of working with modern applied arts, made by living artists. I’ve also had the benefit of being mentored by experts in contemporary British Crafts, Nicholas and Judith Goodison, whose ongoing and growing gift to the Museum forms the backbone of our collection of modern applied arts. Attending fairs and visiting studios with them has been a brilliant way of learning about artists’ practice.    

My interest in contemporary art has also grown in tandem with thinking about how best to expand the range of voices, narratives, and viewpoints that we present in museums, and how visitors feel as they move through the space and encounter different types of art.  

What has been the highlight of your work in Cambridge?

The highlight so far has been the exhibition I curated with artist, Matt Smith, Flux: Parian Unpacked (2018). Using the Museum’s extensive collection of nineteenth-century parian busts, Smith employed a series of visually-stunning installations to explore themes of mass production, celebrity, colonialism, and our notion of history, asking tough and thought-provoking questions such as – Who writes history? Whose histories define Britishness, and how does this change over time? Why do museums celebrate the lives of some people and ignore others? The accompanying catalogue included essays that explicitly discussed statues of historical figures. It was a challenging exhibition, and uncomfortable in places for both staff and visitors, but in hindsight it was incredibly prescient and I remain enormously proud of it, and the provocations it raised.

What do you set out to achieve in your work?

In my experience, working with artists in a museum setting can break down what has been described as ‘the curatorial monopoly’ of the experience. Artists can help democratise the institution by increasing the range of voices and perspectives available, but only when they are given the freedom and resources to do it! So that is what I set out to achieve. I enjoy the disruption that artists bring and ironically, although institutions are often resistant to it, it is often the disruptive work, created by or with the artist, that helps museums achieve their own strategic goals and targets – namely, becoming more inclusive, relevant, and engaging; and reaching wider audiences.

Working with artists has also encouraged me to be more reflective, to ask more questions; to think about whose voices can be heard, and whose can’t. Are we presuming too much pre-existing knowledge? Are we over-simplifying? Are we accepting a status quo? Are we presenting material in a nuanced way?

Has lockdown had an impact on your work?

Lockdown has had a huge impact on the Fitzwilliam but we are working hard to reopen in August, albeit it in a very controlled and socially-distanced way, and to reschedule the incredibly exciting events and exhibitions that had been planned for Summer 2020. In the meantime, our brilliant Digital team have ensured that staff have remote access to most of the systems we need, so work has been able to continue, remotely, and we have created new online digital resources for visitors, so that they can continue to access and interact with the collection 24/7.

What are you working on now?

I’m afraid I can’t say exactly what I’m working on at the moment as we haven’t yet announced some of our forthcoming plans, but there will definitely be more acquisitions from contemporary artists and exhibitions curated with them in the very near future. Watch this space!

Outside of the Fitzwilliam, I have been fortunate to work recently with one of the leading exhibitors of crafts in the UK and help them decide who they will show at Collect (the international art fair for modern craft and design) in 2021, which was a brilliant way of seeing what contemporary crafts practitioners have been working on during lockdown.

Ideas for the future?

As well as plans already ‘in the pipeline’, the Museum is keen to explore further how commissioning artists might work and how that might play a role in our Collections Policy in the future. There will also be quite a lot of exciting re-displays of the core collection too, some with elements of co-curation, so lots to see at the Museum soon!

Profile: Akua Obeng-Frimpong

We asked 6 Cambridge women who bring Contemporary Art to the city to tell us about what they do.

Akua Obeng-Frimpong (Arts Development Officer, Cambridge City Council)

What do you do for Contemporary Art in Cambridge?

I’m an arts development officer working for Cambridge City Council.  My role is to support and advocate for opportunities that enable all Cambridge residents to access the City’s arts and culture. We work with organisations and practitioners with various artform interests, supporting with advice, networks, knowledge of the community, and navigating other useful functions of the City Council, for instance community development or streets and open spaces. If a contemporary artist, curator or gallery has a project idea they’d like to discuss they’re welcome to get in touch.

How did you come to work in Contemporary Art?

My background in the performing arts from managing a touring theatre company for 10 years. This segued into film through which I’ve had the opportunity to work on a couple of artists film projects; I line produced Solidarity by Lucy Parker. The film was supported by Arts Council England and screened at Sheffield Doc|Fest in 2019.

What has been the highlight of your work in Cambridge?

I have the good fortune in my role to encounter a lot creative work. With my interest in audience engagement, I’m most taken with projects that include the community.  In relation to Contemporary Art, the most memorable experience in Cambridge for me so far is The Hunch a public art project by artist Emma Smith.

What do you set out to achieve in your work?

I set out to increase access to the City’s arts and culture, whether that be for audiences that are easy to overlook or for practitioners who are seeking support with their development. 

Has lockdown had an impact on your work?

Undoubtedly. We’re focussed on working with the creative and cultural sector to navigate the impacts of the coronavirus, for instance, providing one-to-one Emergency Funding advice, and implementing ways to enable cultural engagement, such as coordinating the distribution of non-digital creative activities to City residents via the community food hubs.

What are you working on now?

We’re coordinating the distribution of creative activity packs in association with several of local arts and cultural organisations.

Ideas for the future?

We want to find ways to sustain the relationships built with audiences via the Creative Activity Packs initiative. This may be one of the key routes to continuing to reach audiences until it is safe to hold large scale public gatherings. We’re hoping to start a series of conversations with the local arts and culture sector to develop ideas about how culture could function under covid. More information will soon be available via the Cambridge Arts Network.

Profile: Harriet Loffler

We asked 6 Cambridge women who bring Contemporary Art to the city to tell us about what they do.

Harriet Loffler (Curator, New Hall Art Collection, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge)

What do you do for Contemporary Art in Cambridge?

I try to do as much as possible! Most of my time is spent looking after the New Hall Art Collection which is a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art by women at Murray Edwards College. It is the largest collection of its kind in Europe and is mind blowing. It contains staggering work by over 500 artists including Lubaina Himid, Maud Sulter, Paula Rego, Mary Kelly and so many more. The building is amazing too. The founding President, Rosemary Murray appointed the architects Chamberlin, Bonn and Powell (who went on to design the Barbican) to create a building that stands as a manifesto for the education of women.

I also Chair the North West Cambridge public art panel for Eddington which is Cambridge University’s largest development and has enabled some incredible art and education projects to take place. Particular favourites of mine have been the projects made by Yelena Popova and Melanie Manchot. I am also active in the Cambridge art scene – it is small but really thriving. I enjoyed being a judge for the Cambridge Open at Kettle’s Yard and love to support smaller spaces such as Motion Sickness.

How did you come to work in Contemporary Art?

My route into the art world began when I attended a workshop for young people at Tate Modern. It was called Raw Canvas and was peer led and I found it so inspiring to be shown around the art works by people my own age. After a BA in History of Art from Bristol I worked at Frieze for a number of years. The Curating MA from the Royal College of Art followed. I then left London to work at Norwich Castle where I staged exhibitions and developed the Collection. I have lived in Cambridge for over 10 years so it was wonderful to finally live and work in the same place after being appointed to the New Hall Art Collection role.

What has been the highlight of your work in Cambridge?

Without a doubt the recent Bower of Bliss: An Improper Architecture performance by Linder. It was created in collaboration with Kettle’s Yard and was part of Linderism the wonderful retrospective of Linder’s work currently on show (and hopefully re-opening soon). The performance took place in the Dome and involved props, performers, music and sound that re-imaged a bountiful, fertile space. It took place right before lockdown so holds a very special place in my memory of being together with others sharing in something sensuous and celebratory.

What do you set out to achieve in your work? 

I hope to continue to provide a platform and a space for artists who identify as women. The Collection is remarkable and I am so keen for it to be better known.

Has lockdown had an impact on your work?

The lockdown has meant we have closed the Collection and I miss showing visitors around the spaces and seeing people amble around. One thing that the lockdown has enforced is a slowing down which has made me pay closer attention to things. 

What are you working on now?

I am very excited that we are running our first virtual event in August that focuses on the Black feminist artists in our Collection. I am also excited to be working on a re-hang of the art works across the College. I’m keen for the spaces to be more curated when people visit.

Ideas for the future?

I would love to gather together all nine photographs by Maud Sulter from her Zabat series. For the series Sulter photographed nine black creative women and depicted them as Greek muses. We have one of the feminist activist and writer Alice Walker so I now just need to persuade the V&A to lend the rest!

Profile: Judith Weik

We asked 6 Cambridge women who bring contemporary art to the city to tell us about what they do.

Judith Weik (Exhibitions Coordinator, Art at ARB/ Artist/ Communications Manager, CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

What do you do for Contemporary Art in Cambridge?

I am the exhibitions coordinator for Art at the Alison Richard Building, which is located on the Sidgwick Site of the University of Cambridge. The initiative is run by a group of volunteers drawn from the various departments and centres in the building. Our exhibitions are hung in the Alison Richard Building’s bright and airy public spaces, and range from shows by local and UK based artists to archival and documentary exhibitions by researchers. As well as showing local work, our aim is to bring exciting contemporary art to Cambridge.

How did you come to work in Contemporary Art?

As an artist myself, finding and creating opportunities to exhibit is something that is important to me. Cambridge has its challenges for artists; living costs are high and studio spaces scarce, so young enthusiasm often bleeds away to other cities, making a coherent local arts scene hard to maintain. However, it has been fantastic to see new networks, initiatives, galleries, and exhibition spaces popping up across the city over the past few years!

What has been the highlight of your work in Cambridge?

I am proud to have created an exhibition space that is now firmly on the Cambridge arts map. It has been a roller coaster with highs and lows and unexpected outcomes! My highlight, apart from many lovely exhibitions, has definitely been meeting so many fantastically dedicated artists and facilitators along the way, and how we have begun to work together to create new and exciting networks and happenings in the city.

Has lockdown had an impact on your work?

Yes, very much so. Our building closed completely in early March, and as everyone in the Alison Richard Building’s departments can do their research and work from home, it will be one of the last ones to open up again. Art at the ARB has a tight programme of exhibitions that now needs to be re-arranged over the next year or so, which will be challenging. On the upside, it has made me think about creating a more flexible approach to programming shows, which allows for the unexpected to happen!

What are you working on now?

I work for the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) based at the Alison Richard Building and lockdown has been a very busy period as we worked towards moving our activities online. It has left me with little time and energy for other things, which means sadly Art at the ARB has had to take a back seat for a while.

On the upside, we have been picked as one of the venues for an upcoming window exhibition organised by the photography organisation Shutter Hub, so look out for some beautiful images appearing on the windows of the Alison Richard Building in August!

Ideas for the future?

I definitely want to carrying on working on our arts networks and creating more flexible ways of exhibiting. I would love some more collaborations with other spaces and arts initiatives and to really show that the threshold to the University can be crossed with the help of art!

Profile: Rosanna Greaves

We asked 6 Cambridge women who bring contemporary art to the city to tell us about what they do.

Rosanna Greaves (Artist/ Senior Lecturer, Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University)

What do you do for Contemporary Art in Cambridge?

I am an artist and my interests lie in working with site and landscape narrative, through installation, moving image, text, and sound. In recent projects I have explored the constructed and ever-changing landscape of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands, a region below sea level. The work considers notions of sustainability, ecology and economy, and is in conjunction with the Global Sustainability Institute, Cambridge (GSI)

As well as my contribution as an artist I am also a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Cambridge School of Art (CSA), ARU. I strongly believe in widening participation in higher education, and enjoy opening up exhibition opportunities for upcoming artists. As part of my role at CSA I also jointly run the Fine Art Research Unit (FARU) talks programme, where we invite practicing artists and curators to share their practice and research with the wider arts community at CSA. Each year we try to integrate into this programme, as many connections with other arts organisations and opportunities across Cambridge as possible, such as regularly inviting the studio artists and artists in residence at Wysing Arts Centre to contribute.

I am also a committee member of Art Language Location (ALL), and curate a collaborative project with them called The Window Project, where we use windows as public facing, permanently visible spaces for delivering innovative Contemporary Art directly onto the streets of Cambridge, and providing professional opportunities for students to collaborate.

How did you come to work in Contemporary Art?

Art has always been my passion from a very early age and, as soon as I could, I committed myself to studying art; selecting Sculpture, Photography, and Art History as my three A ‘level choices, an opportunity I realise is not available to many people these days. I then moved to London to study art foundation at Camberwell College.

After completing my BA, I started to gain experience working in arts education, in higher education, early years, and in the community. I found the synergy between my own practice and education work to be very engaging and rewarding. For a number of years I worked as an Artist Educator for Cubitt Gallery, Studios and Education in Islington, where I learnt a lot and met a number of wonderful and likeminded people. I became focussed on opening up opportunities for less advantaged and less represented people and constantly feel humbled and inspired by what art can offer to people’s confidence, independence, and broader lives.

What has been the highlight of your work in Cambridge?

Last year my film The Flaming Rage of The Sea was selected for the Cambridge Open at Kettles Yard. This was a fantastic show, which I was very proud to be a part of, highlighting the  breadth of interesting, contemporary work being produced in Cambridge. In the same month, my film was also screened as part of the Cambridge Film Festival, at The Heong Gallery. I have always loved the Cambridge Film Festival, and it was a fantastic opportunity to show the same work in very different viewing experiences and reaching different and new audiences.

What do you set out to achieve in your work?

My process as an artist is quite research driven, often working in a site-specific context, exploring notions of place and identity. This leads to the production of multi-layered works with interconnected narratives and time frames, I am interested in repositioning or subverting hidden, social or political, historical contexts. The initial exploration of site then acts as a catalyst to develop new autonomous works, which focus on broader research interests such as environmentalism, mythology, language, and documentary methodologies.

I have always been interested in the potential for art to communicate complexity. And consider the activation of the audience as an integral part of this. This interest spills over into my educational and curatorial work, in creating opportunities for others and developing non-commercial spaces for discourse and exhibitions with a sense of community and collaboration.

Has lockdown had an impact on your work?

Lockdown has impacted my work on two very different timescales. As a lecturer, my colleagues and I had to adapt very quickly, almost overnight, to online teaching and re-conceptualising exhibition space. This is particularly complicated for a practical subject such as Fine Art and I have been deeply impressed by how creatively our students have adapted and overcome significant challenges.

On the other hand the personal and global impact and loss due to Covid-19 is a much slower process that we are only at the very beginning of processing and understanding. I am only just starting to consider how this may manifest itself in the production and dissemination of works in the future.

What are you working on now?

During lockdown I have mainly been writing  and reading, using the time for reflection and experimentation . I am at the beginning stages of developing new sound and film works.

Ideas for the future?

We have started to explore the potential for new sites and development of The Window Project, especially with its new found relevance as an exhibition space viewed from the street with inbuilt social distancing.

Profile: Amy Tobin

We asked 6 Cambridge women who bring Contemporary Art to the city to tell us about what they do.

Dr Amy Tobin (Curator of Exhibitions, Research and Events, Kettle’s Yard/ Lecturer in the Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge)

What do you do for Contemporary Art in Cambridge?

I have a joint post at the University of Cambridge, teaching modern and contemporary art in the Department of History of Art and curating exhibitions, events and research at Kettle’s Yard. So I do many different Contemporary Art-related things in Cambridge, including collaborating with other curators and collections including Harriet Loffler at the New Hall Art Collection, Laura Dennis at Newnham – where I am also a Fellow – with the team of Wysing and of course, Prerona Prasad! 

How did you come to work in Contemporary Art?

I came to contemporary art through the History of Art. I trained as an art historian at the University of York and the Courtauld. Jo Applin – who I met as an undergraduate – really turned me toward modern and contemporary art. Jo taught me how to position my work between the modern and the contemporary, how to work historically and with theory. My research has focused on art of the 1970s–80s, which is considered contemporary to some, but living in London and working in museums and galleries alongside research gave me an education in more recent contemporary practices. Before coming to Cambridge, I taught art theory and critical studies in art schools, which was also great experience.

I think I was attracted to Contemporary Art because it can be so many different things: political, historical, predictive, abstract. It is relentlessly challenging, it can be instructive, totally moving, and sometimes even pleasurable.

What has been the highlight of your work in Cambridge?

Its tricky to pick one thing, often the things that feel most gratifying are students really getting to grips with something, or an event going well. I also really enjoy giving talks and tours about exhibitions and the Kettle’s Yard house. It is so unusual as an art historian to be able so often, to engage closely with artworks in the flesh, it always feels special to be able to talk to the work itself. But, beyond the habitual, I suppose the highlight of my time here has been working on Linderism, and related events. It has been incredible to work with Linder Sterling closely, her work and her feminism has long been influential to me, and it was a rare treat to work with someone else from the North West.

What do you set out to achieve in your work?

Much of my work has focused on challenging existing structures of value. I have researched figures who don’t fit easily in art histories, or who have been directly obscured by them. I try to make these figures legible to audiences. In some ways this is about telling their stories, but I hope the effect is that we can change what we think art should be, or can be. And as such how Contemporary Art might relate to more people and have more social value. I think of this as a feminist practice, and try to participate in, as well as create, feminist contexts such the Group Work Network (https://groupworkartandfeminism.wordpress.com/).

Has lockdown had an impact on your work?

Yes, Kettle’s Yard and the Linderism exhibition closed in March. The team have since been working from home, turning our attention to interim programming that has included both digital and physical offerings. Practically, much of my time has focused on remote meetings, and teaching, but the forced stasis has also prompted more strategic thinking. Perhaps more than lockdown, it was the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests that really impacted my work. I have long been committed to confronting racism, usually through my teaching and exhibition-organising, but now I’m thinking more about structural change. 

What are you working on now?

This summer I’m taking some time away from my day job to work on a book about art, feminism, and solidarity, organised around the idea of sisterhood. I’ve just handed over work towards reopening Linderism in the Autumn, and an up and coming exhibition on the work of British artist Sutapa Biswas, but I’ll continue to work on anti-racist activism with various groups.

Ideas for the future?

I’m always thinking three years ahead (at least) on up and coming Kettle’s Yard projects, but lockdown has changed that mindset. Now I’m trying to think how I can work differently, responding to environmental catastrophe, to pandemic, to racism. I have a lot of hope that the broken systems we live in could change.

New Hall Art Collection

Curator, Harriet Loffler, writes about the extraordinary collection of art by women at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.

The New Hall Art Collection was started by women and celebrates art made by women, in a Cambridge college dedicated to the education of outstanding young women. Today, the Collection has over five hundred works of modern and contemporary art, making it the largest collection of its kind in Europe and the second largest in the world[i].

New Hall

It was the leading chemist, Dame Rosemary Murray, who founded New Hall as a college for women in 1954, with a fledgling cohort of thirteen students and two tutors. Murray Edwards College, as it is now known, is named for her and for the Edwards family, who generously endowed the College in 2008. When New Hall was established, Cambridge University had the lowest proportion of women undergraduates of any university in the UK, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it took the University over 600 years to admit women and another 79 years to award them degrees! As admissions to New Hall steadily increased, the College needed to expand and it was members of the Darwin family who kindly donated land in order for a purpose-built college to be built.

Dame Rosemary Murray was a visionary in her choice of architects. Chamberlin, Powell and Bonn, who went on to design the Barbican Centre in London, in 1965 created a landmark Brutalist building as a manifesto for the education of women. The architects and Dame Rosemary Murray envisioned a building that reached for the sky. This emphasis on ascension can be felt across the soaring architecture and iconic Dome – we are encouraged always to look up and to aim high. The building was designed to symbolise the power of education to be transformational – something that can be felt when ascending the rising staircase in the library. The building is bookended by the Dome and Library and is connected by Fountain Court. The moving water and its reflected light become the body of the building and this fluidity and dynamism create a space that is always animated and in flux.

Mary Kelly

The late 1980s were a turning point for the College, as the President and Fellows invited the leading American feminist artist, Mary Kelly, to be artist-in-residence in 1985-86, in collaboration with nearby Kettle’s Yard. Mary Kelly’s large-scale narrative installations reference social and sexual politics. She is best known for Post-Partum Document (1973–79), a multipart installation that explores the mother–child relationship, informed by feminism and psychoanalysis, and focuses on formative moments in her son’s acquisition of language. By the time Kelly arrived in Cambridge, Post-Partum Document had achieved iconic status within feminist and emerging postmodern discourse, as well as provoking tabloid outrage for its inclusion of dirty nappies when shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1976.

Extase was the series Mary Kelly made during her time in Cambridge and is part of a much larger body of work titled Interim (1984–89). The work explores themes concerned with the history of women’s lives during the beginning of the women’s movement in the 1970s: themes to do with the body, history, money, and power. Part I, entitled Corpus, focuses on the body. Each component of Corpus is divided into six panels that reference the nineteenth-century psychiatrist Jean Charcot’s labelling of hysteria with the phases Extase, Menacé, Supplication, Érotisme, and Appel. Charcot, who taught and greatly influenced Freud, photographed women in different poses depicting these distinct phases. The photo-laminates and screen prints show items of clothing as specimens, positioned and photographed, and accompanied with panels of text.

Interim addresses the problem of representation and what it means to make images of women. In this work, no singular body is represented and so the work becomes a gathering or presence of many women at once. It was during her residency in Cambridge that Mary Kelly was able to develop her interdisciplinary approach to making art. In an interview from 2015 she reflected on her time spent here:

‘There was an atmosphere of total change then. Already, outside the academic institutions in the 1970s, things had started to move in an interdisciplinary way – in questions that came from fields like psychoanalysis into other areas to do with, not only feminism but visual art. At Cambridge, the art historian Norman Bryson, offered a course that was called Literature and Art and it had the aura of an underground cult because of the kind of excitement it generated.

When I showed my work at Kettle’s Yard, Norman Bryson and Margaret Iversen, another historian, spoke and, I think, this was probably the first time we put sexuality, psychoanalysis, feminism and conceptual art together on the same platform. Of course, we have come a long way since then, but the collection would not exist in my view without it.’[ii]

This cross-cultural approach and broad institutional support for Mary Kelly’s work led to the acquisition of an edition of Extase that became the foundational artwork that established the New Hall Art Collection.

Installation view of WE ARE HERE: Women in Art at Cambridge Colleges at The Heong Gallery.

Generosity

It was during her residency that Mary Kelly developed a friendship with Dr Valerie Pearl, who was President of the College at the time. From her previous career at University College London, she was familiar with the radical history of the Slade Art School in admitting women on equal terms to men since its establishment in 1871. At New Hall, faced with a lot of hammered concrete and bare brick walls, Valerie Pearl, together with the curator Ann Jones, took a leap of faith. In 1992, they wrote to one hundred of the most successful, influential, and important women artists and asked for a work to be donated to the Collection. In so doing, they sought to place art by women at the heart of a women’s college. They hoped for twenty-five or so, but received a staggering seventy-five donations. Among the artists who responded were Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling, and Alexis Hunter.

Emerging artists were asked, too. Maud Sulter was early on in her career when she gave a work from her Zabat series, a name that derives from a ritual dance performed by women. The series is a collection of portraits of black women commissioned by Rochdale Art Gallery to mark the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography. Addressing the invisibility of the black female face within this history, Sulter photographed artists, writers, and musicians as the nine muses of ancient Greek mythology. The work in the New Hall Art Collection is of the award-winning writer Alice Walker Phalia (Portrait of Alice Walker) (1989) depicted as the muse of comedy.

Maud Sulter, Phalia (Portrait of Alice Walker from the Zabat series, 1989. Limited edition photograph. New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge. (c) The Estate of Maud Sulter. All rights reserved, DACS 2020.

Lubaina Himid was another artist who gave early on and was among the group of women included in Maud Sulter’s Zabat series. Himid shares Sulter’s critical approach to history and was a leading member of the radical Black Arts Movement in the 1980s. In Spinster Salt’s Collection (1989) is part of The Wing Museum series, an imaginary touring exhibition of black cultural objects. In Spinster’s Salts Collection features an ancient Egyptian mirror and a pair of sistra instruments used in dance and religious ceremonies in the worship of the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. The idea of The Wing Museum and the objects it contains is intended as both a homage to Black creativity and a critique of the way Western museums treat and display African artefacts.

Lubaina Himid, In Spinster Salt’s Collection from the Wing Museum series, 1989. Acrylic on canvas. New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge. (c) Lubaina Himid, 2020.
Installation view of WE ARE HERE: Women in Art at Cambridge Colleges at The Heong Gallery.

All of the artists  who donated performed an extraordinary act of collective giving that speaks not only of a moment of generosity, but also of a desire to be represented at a time when women artists were largely overlooked by museums and galleries. These artists were given a platform and a voice.

Generosity is at the heart of the collection and the College: we are open to the public every day, all the works have been donated by artists, collectors, and/or supporters, and the energetic gardener Jo Cobb has created a beautiful, playful, and irreverent garden from which the students are welcome to pick the flowers, fruit, and foliage.

Now

Since 1992, the collection has grown and now has over five hundred works, nearly all of which are on display across the College. There has never been an overriding collecting focus. Yet, there are rich strands and connections to be discovered – the depiction of the body, a commitment to abstraction, an emphasis on materiality and making. The explicitly feminist work of Mary Kelly that started the Collection has echoes, too, in the work of her contemporaries, Jo Spence and Alexis Hunter, as well as with the feminist artist collective, the Guerrilla Girls. One of the advantages of being a woman artist, they announce in one of their posters, is ‘knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty’. This feels all too apt for Rose Wylie who won the John Moores Painting Prize at the age of eighty. Her characteristic unprimed, unstretched canvas hangs ceremoniously in the College Bar.

One of my many favourite works in the collection is by the British feminist artist Rose Garrard. In Models Triptych: Madonna Cascade (1982) we see the 17th century Dutch painter Judith Leyster. For two centuries following her death, much of Leyster’s work was wrongly attributed to male contemporaries, notably Frans Hals. Garrard’s portrait of Leyster is surrounded by a sculpted frame made from plaster that literally falls to the floor. It commands its own space and its whiteness becomes symbolic of the historic erasure of women artists over time. Look closely and you’ll notice gaps in the portrait that reveal the bricks and mortar of the College – the very support structure for art and artists. For me this work demonstrates that in championing women artists of today, we revive those confined to history.

Rose Garrard, Models Triptych: Madonna Cascade, 1982. Oil on gesso board with integral plaster frame. New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge. Photo: Wilf Speller. (c) Rose Garrard, 2020.

[i] The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington is the largest.

[ii] Interview between Professor Mary Kelly and Dr Kathy Battista on the occasion of the launch of the New Hall Art Collection publication (4th ed.), held at Sotheby’s New York, 23 October, 2015.  https://www.art.newhall.cam.ac.uk/about-the-collection/essays/interview-mary-kelly-23-october-2015/

WE ARE HERE: WOMEN IN ART SYMPOSIUM

We are pleased to announce a series of talks and panel discussions exploring the exhibition WE ARE HERE: WOMEN IN ART AT CAMBRIDGE COLLEGES at The Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge.

In light of current restrictions, the symposium will be held as a ZOOM webinar. To ensure maximum participation (and minimal eye strain) the day symposium will be split up into 6 daily sessions from Monday to Friday, 22-26 June 2020. All times in BST (GMT +1).

Book now to register. FREE

ZOOM login details will be sent to registered attendees prior to each session.

We hope you can join us!

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