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Russell-Cotes opens 'Dangerous Women' exhibition

New exhibition ‘Dangerous Women’ is challenging gender stereotypes by showing how women have reshaped art

On a windy Friday evening, a crowd starts to gather in the main room of the Russell- Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, by the beach. Art lovers, reporters, students, they all came to celebrate ‘Dangerous Women!, those who helped shape art throughout history and the name of the museum’s latest exhibition.

Sue Hayward, the museum manager, has only one word to start with: lucky. Lucky that the founders, Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes, “amassed a remarkable number of artworks by female artists between 1858 and 1920.”

After a few speeches AUB graduate Robin James Sullivan performs a song from the Little Mermaid, and to keep challenging gender assumptions, he is dressed as a woman. The exhibition is now officially open.

Starting in the 18th century, it illustrates how women artists established themselves in what used to be ‘a man’s world’. It featured Angelica Kauffman, founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, and the first women who gained entry to the artistic circles through their male relatives and patrons.

But even when they did gain entry, the women still had to work in the shadows. Their pieces were often restricted and sold at a much lower price than those of their male counterparts. They weren’t even allowed to attend art schools.

A quote by John Ruskin, art critic, overshadows the room: “I have always said no woman can paint.”

Those challenges brought women to challenge male-dominance and artistic standards, tackling risky topics and high art.

Among them, Bournemouth-born Lucy Kemp-Welch, horse-painter and early feminist. Kemp-Welch became famous overnight when her painting Colt Hunting was hung at the Royal Academy. But she was a woman in 1897, and she was painting a masculine subject. Even though the Tate Gallery opened the same year, the painter’s work was never showcased, as she was seen as a dangerous supporter of the suffragettes.

It was only in 1998 that the painting left the gallery’s basement and was showcased for the first time.

Ending the tour is a sculpture of Amy Winehouse by Pokesdown-based Linda Joyce, and a bed with cover sheets sewn by Tracey Emin, affirming that she is ‘here to stay’. Emin is the shaft of hope that ends the exhibition, showing she is one of the most famous female artists working today.

Councillor Lawrence Williams, Portfolio-Holder for the Economy and Tourism, said:  “We’re delighted to be bringing work by Tracey Emin to Bournemouth; Tracey is only the second female professor in the Royal Academy’s 250-year history, and is now assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK.”

But even though progress has been made, there are still barriers to take down for women artists.

As Tracey Emin told Time Out London in an interview earlier this year, “Louise Bourgeois has the highest female sales price at auction but it is so far below her male counterparts, it’s unbelievable. Were she a man it would be ten times more.”

Bourgeois’ most expensive piece of art, Spider, was sold at an auction for an amazing  $10.7 million.

As a comparison, her male competitor, Paul Cezanne, had his painting, The Card Players, sold for more than $250 million in 2011.