Successful Women in Contemporary Art

Jenny Saville

A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine highlighted the fact that collections by male artists far outweighed those by women. The Baltimore Museum of Art told the reporter that out of 95,000 items in the museum only 3,800 are by women artists.

The Baltimore isn’t alone. In London, the National Gallery, with a collection of over 2,300 works only has 24 by women. The good news is that the Baltimore and other galleries around the globe are seeking to redress the balance. Galleries like the Eponymous Gallery in Oakland, California and Richard Saltoun’s gallery in Mayfair, London are exhibiting works exclusively by female artists. 

Here we are going to tell you about two highly successful contemporary artists who inspire women artists all over the world.

Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville-1
Jenny Saville

Jenny was born in Cambridge, England in 1970. She studies at Glasgow School of Art and the University of Cincinnati. When she finished her post-graduate training the British art collector, Charles Saatchi gave her an 18-month contract to create and exhibit new works in the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Jenny’s art is associated with the human form. In an interview she gave to the Gagosian Quarterly she explained that while she was in America she became fascinated with overweight people and the way their flesh moved around, which she thought was beautiful. She also watched cosmetic surgeons at work and studies cadavers in a medical school.

Her paintings are in the main about the female form. She says she wants to provoke interest and excitement. She wants to challenge the traditional perception of beauty. That’s why her paintings are often of overweight women with imperfections.

In 1994 the British band Manic Street Preachers used her painting ‘stare’ for the cover of their album journal in 2009. But, the cover was said to be inappropriate and the top 4 UK supermarkets refused to display it. The band’s CD was instead displayed using a plain slipcase.     

In 2004 Jenny exhibited her painting ‘passage.’ The painting is of a male who has silicone breasts which Jenny interpreted as a floating gender, which isn’t fixed. In an interview with Simon Schama, she explained that this human form couldn’t have existed thirty or forty years ago. 

In 2018 her self-portrait ‘Shift’ sold at auction for almost 11 million dollars creating a record for the most expensive work sold at auction by a living artist.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama © Reuters

Although Yayoi Kusama has been painting since she was a child. She didn’t receive the acclaim she deserved until the late 1980s when she was almost 60. She is now 91 years of age and is considered to be one of the most popular artists in the world for museum attendance.

She is best known for her polka dot paintings and installations which include the Infinity Mirror Room, first produced in 1965 and her pumpkin installations which have been created for displays around the world.

Kusama also produced soft sculptures and pop art in the 1960s. In 1962 her display of a phallic covered chair and couch was at the Green Gallery in New York. The artist Gary Oldenburg also had an exhibition there at the same time. Kusama says that not long after Gary Oldenburg debuted his new work soft sculptures. She says he copied her style. But, he wasn’t the only male artist she influenced. 

In 1963 Kusama exhibited her work Aggregation: One thousand boats show. The work is a repeated photograph of a boat which covered the floors, walls and ceilings. Kusama says Warhol told her he was impressed with the work and three years later he came up with his cow wallpaper design.

She was born in Matsumoto, Japan and after the second world war, she studied at Kyoto Municipal School. But, she didn’t want to paint in the traditional Japanese style. So she wrote to an artist who she greatly admired and asked her about moving to New York. That artist was none other than Georgia O’Keefe who, despite only meeting up on one occasion became a friend and mentor. Kusama says O’Keefe gave her the courage to leave Japan. 

However, Kusama has suffered from mental illness since she was a child and suffers from anxiety and hallucinations. In 1972 she lost her dear friend Joseph Cornell and so in 1973, she returned to Japan.  

In 1977 she admitted herself to the Seiwa Psychiatric Hospital in Tokyo where she has lived ever since. Her studio is a short walk from the hospital. Maybe the hospital gave her peace of mind and she began to exhibit her work in Japan at the beginning of the 1980s. This soon led to exhibitions in other parts of the world and by the end of the 1990s, many of her previous works were being exhibited in prestigious museums around the world.

In 2017 she opened the Yayoi Kasama Museum in Tokyo. She now regularly breaks public attendance records at museums in London and States. It is said that Instagram has helped to boost her popularity. The app has opened up her work to a whole new worldwide audience.


  1. It’s predictable that pre-20th century collections are going to be predominantly male. The only way to make up for that in the present is to actively sexually discriminate against men for the foreseeable future in the name of eradicating sexual discrimination. Or, moving forward stop all discrimination once and for all in art, and show the art of the best artists, irrespective of their DNA at birth.

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