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Financial Times writer: 'female artists tend to assimilate and adapt radicality pioneered by men'

Reading Jackie Wullschlager’s Financial Times article about Barbara Hepworth’s Tate Britain retrospective feels akin to stepping into a very misogynist time machine. Wullschlager, who happens to be a woman herself, writes about the pitfalls of the Tate Britain and Modern’s recent retrospectives devoted to women–namely, Sonia Delaunay, Agnes Martin, and sculptor Barbara Hepworth. While the long-awaited retrospectives are are okay, she writes, “Yet none delivers the visceral thrill or intellectual charge of a great retrospective, because none of these artists really changed how we see or think. Has a woman artist ever done so? The stories here show that female artists tend to assimilate and adapt radicality pioneered by men.”

Never mind that Hepworth touts a museum named after her, and the countless achievements of Delaunay and Martin. What does it even mean for an artist to “change the way we see or think,” anyway? What artist, male or female, has had this kind of effect on broader culture at all? And if we look at this statement to mean “to change the way we see or think within the art world,” it’s absolutely ridiculous to assert that a woman artist has never done this–wasn’t it the project of second wave feminism to challenge the completely unchecked male-centric 20th century art world? And the project of second wave feminism was successful to the extent that we at least recognize unrepentant misogynistic sentiments like Wullschlager’s, even though they unfortunately still exist.

Financial Times, how did this get past your copy desk?


strangely, the same writer penned this: “Such self-portraits [Maria Lassnig and Alice Neel’s] are unprecedented in art history, belonging to our reality TV culture of personal revelation, yet take enormous daring on canvas. They are survivors’ paintings – which takes us to the heart of the current surge of interest in older women artists. Even today, and more so when they began, it is braver, harder and crazier to pursue an artistic career as a woman than as a man. The heroic egoism demanded by art sits uncomfortably with the emotional claims of motherhood and family life. Yet for a serious artist, not to make art is unendurable.”

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This is a strange change of heart, but I also find her sentiments about what art is and what it entails to be deeply problematic. I certainly don’t think that art necessitates a “heroic egoism,” but can imagine what she’s referring to, in the narrowest, Jackson Pollock sense.

problematic yes, offensive no. big difference between the two positions - so big, one wonders that it can even be the same author. there are only a few years between the articles. i guess in the context of the artists’ statements she quotes, one could indeed speak of “heroic egoism” - whether that is illuminating or myth-making is another matter of course.

Apart from dwelling onto the all-comprising ‘female artists’ category (yeah, we beings of the same sex make the same art and really deserve to have our practices defined by our gender), who are the ‘we’ she refers to? And how can she assume that this ‘we’ sees, thinks, reacts, feels, sighs, loves, hastes in a consonant unison? Since she adopts the ‘female artists’ I’d suppose this ‘we’ refers to ‘female readers’. “One love, one blood, one life.” She deserves to listen to Bono for the rest of her female days, to see if she understands that “one life, but we’re not the same.”


Yes, how did the editor allow this to be published?
What can be done to require retraction of this? She obviously is terribly uninformed.

To be precise, the writer is criticising the presentations at Tate modern, not female artists - “The stories here show that female artists tend to assimilate and adapt radicality pioneered by men”. Agree? The answer is yours but her critique is firm, she has no qualm in criticising Tate curation, which, let’s face it, really needs more risk taking and shaking up. Where are the exciting young artists???

yes, she is saying “The stories here show that”; she isn’t saying that they imply, indicate, propose or propagate the notion that. If something is shown, it’s reasonable to assume that it is shown to be the case. I think it is a rather generous interpretation to presume that she is merely criticising the curation but if that really was the case then she would have done well to choose more precise language and perhaps elaborate a little more.


Agreed, I think the writer was very obviously lambasting female artists with broad strokes, and criticizing Tate curators more specifically for deigning to give retrospectives to female artists, which are qualitatively lower than male artists. This, of course, is a clear criticism of female artists. Was this even a real comment, @shenny71? Friendly reminder to keep it respectful.

I also find it strange that the FT writer seems to think all women experience the same femininity; as if all women artists juggle kids and domestic demands with their abstract expressionism.


I’m bringing this response over from a Facebook debate on this piece which has garnered a lot of astonishment and anger…
I take issue with so many things in this small text clip and the wider article. The broad use of ‘WE’ here, which is both phenomenally presumptuous and vague, and the unqualified statement that “female artists tend to assimilate and adapt radicality”… it’s simply not true. To discount, for example, feminist practices in the late 60s/70s (which actively DID change the way we “see and think” - and can’t be accused of not being radical, and definitely not pioneered by men) is one of many obvious responses to her frankly bizarre question. Has a woman artist ever really done so? YES, REGULARLY.
My other issue with it stems from the application of a set of value judgements on artist, women or otherwise - what does artistic success mean in the pages of the FT?
I can’t help but think that we should furnish Ms Wullschlager with a long, long list…


@shenny71 If you are London based, I can sincerely recommend a show with exciting young artists at Tate Britain. Charlotte Prodger, Eloise Hawser, Katrina Palmer, and Yuri Pattison called ‘The Weight of Data’. Tbh a great summer at Tate with female blockbusters, a 75% female group show, and same for the season’s commissioned artist. While many museums get excited tweeting artists’ names on International Women’s Day, this looks like the start of a firm commitment from a major institution. All are free to love the shows or leave them but I’ll take this as an optimistic sign. Hope to see continued commitment from other institutions towards more (overall) diverse curation to make articles like these even more impossible to publish.


The way that Wullschlager’s positioned herself has a little to do with the other post of Sara Ahmed’s criticism of the “students today are too sensitive…” line of thinking, I think.

She’s done something that I think happens in the context of any group that’s been oppressed. Someone of X marginalized group will publicly dismiss (whether from a position of privilege or in a bid for that privilege) the articulated claims of group X. It’s a strange case to make because they are usually attempting to dismantle the credibility of group X, even though a primary reason their statements garner attention is because they’re of group X—Wullschlager’s was vetted by the FT editors since as a woman she must know what she’s talking about, even though in a sense she’s implying that women can’t. So we could talk about how Glenn Loury in the world of economics, as a former vehement black critic of affirmative action. Or, since it’s in the air, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal in the South Asian-American community.

Is this a fair description? I feel like it’s always a trick setup.

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Say what?! Where is this from??

Spotted in a ‘hand-on creativity’ childrens area in the Dallas Museum of Art. :confused:

The DMA is largely free to the public, though, which is nice.

HOW DO YOU allow yourself to make an asertion that presupposes an advocation of censorship because you disagree with the content? Are yours the only views that publicatiosn should allow to see print? And how do you allow yourself to express this disagreement with an arbitrary judgment “terribly misinformed?” is this a service to woman artists? Why not instead take th effort ot make a reasoned argument and cite pertinent examples in art history like Helen Pashgian, Charlotte Posenenske, Hanne Darboven, and Jonny Star, Jia’s The Chinese Version, Yvonne Wahl, Leiko Ikemura, Julieta Aranda, Eva Hesse; Mary Corse. Have you even bothered to study the work of these artists? I hope so.