Valeria Napoleone is one of the biggest collectors of female art in the contemporary art scene at the moment, but she is also an irrepressible patron. As a collector she isn't merely passively accumulate objects, she's a supporter, benefactor, cheerleader, advocate and invaluable artistic fairy godmother.
It's no surprise that female artists are underrepresented in the art world, and underrepresented at all levels, from the smallest project spaces to the biggest institutions. But even then, many female artists get lost between being the hot young new thing and the old, prized, reassessed stages of their career. So Valeria offered to share with us her invaluable expertise and singular eye, and present this guide to the most talented female artists you might not know about, you might've forgotten, or maybe even already love.
"These are all exceptional talents who are making necessary contributions to the language of contemporary art, they are all courageous in their work, and at different times in their careers, most of them, though, in the middle of their journey," Valeria explains. "Many women artists are induced into a type of middle career crisis when nobody is paying attention and they struggle. They are not so young and hot and not yet old enough to be rediscovered. Still, these great talents have been working tirelessly and with rare integrity, and have been proving themselves for over two decades. To me, they are very relevant in the discourse of today's contemporary art world."
Up, Installation view, Museion Bolzano, 2016
"Judith is a real artist's artist. Her work is very conceptual and not very commercial. She's not a painter or a traditional sculptor, so she's not really out there in the market — but she's definitely one of the most respected artists of her generation and a real inspiration for a younger generation of artists. She teaches and is a mentor to many younger German artists like Anne Imhof, who is representing Germany at the Venice Biennale this year. Her work is really unsettling, but beautiful and with a great sense of humor. Even though I've been following her for quite a while, I just bought my first piece by her: a video work that features a big egg trying to go through a door that's too small. It's incredibly sad and a little funny."
Don't Save Her, 2013
"She's a goddess! She's had a few museum shows in America recently. I've followed her for a few years, but then I just started collecting and became very engaged with her work. She's hasn't had a lot of commercial recognition again, but institutions support her and are at the core of what she does. They do the work that gets these incredible artists, who might not be represented very well by the market, into the history books. It helps that she's a very rewarding artist to spend time with. Her work uses language, literature, poetry, text, and even technology — social media and online chat rooms. It's very relevant and influentialto younger artists too, using these social communication systems not in a literal way."
Sindy in Pink, 2015
"Ghada is such an important artist in the history of my collection because she taught me so much about myself as a collector. She has such strength and integrity. We were both at the beginning when we met and we've navigated the art world together. We began our journey together in the late 90s in New York. I've been there throughout her career and seen how she's developed. Often female artists who are in this middle career moment aren't given justice by the art market. Maybe in 20 years they will be properly recognised again? Ghada's work has been in all the major museums. I pay more and more attention to artists who are at this stage in their careers, I collect, support, and engage with them. For me, this is something very meaningful to do."
Project for a Door, 2016
"She was of course nominated for last year's Turner Prize, and there is a very personal story behind the Turner Prize show for me. As part of an initiative I support with the Sculpture Centre in New York, for female artists, we funded the solo exhibition Anthea was nominated for. But I've known Anthea for years. She was a big fan of Gaetano Pesce, but made the move to approach (I erased last part of this sentence). But I know Gaetano, so I picked up the phone and arranged a studio visit. She came back saying she'd found the most amazing blueprint for an architectural work called Project for Door, which had never been realised! This was it! The big arse! A work so irreverent, yet spoke to so much; to class, feminism, biology, wealth, art, architecture. So my initiative XX funded its production. This show earned her the nomination to the Turner Prize. So the giant arse appeared again at The Turner Prize shoe at Tate Britain. The support of artists overlooked and of their ambitious projects is fulfilling and necessary."
Ohne Titel, 2016
Amelie Von Wulffen
"Another artist I discovered maybe 15 years ago, who has been having a bit of a quiet moment recently though. I loved these large collage works she was doing when I first discovered her, they were so personal and enigmatic, but dark and strange too. They deal with the past, with the history of Germany. They can be difficult to see, but they demand your attention, they want you to look at them.
A few years ago I noticed she had started working with watercolours, painting these little animated vegetables and fruits and creatures, they were strange! I couldn't quite work out where they were coming from. Watercolours were a new thing for her, but as I saw more and more of them, it made more and more sense."
"She's one of the first artists I started collecting, so I know her and her work very well. Yet she doesn't produce that much, and she is quiet at the moment, so I'm craving to see some new work! We need to see this quality of work! She's such an incredible painter, she has amazing technique; so impressive, so labour intensive. She used to just work at night, so you see that come through in the way she uses light in her work. She has a child, so she kind of had to make work like this. A big survey show is much overdue for her."
Untitled (#16-15), 2015
"A painter from Los Angeles who works mainly in abstraction. What can I say? All these artists, I know personally, I respect them, and Rebecca is like all the others, someone with an incredible level of taste and unique way of using colour and composition. She's very versatile. Abstraction is very difficult, especially if you want to do something new. The scale of her work is very impressive too; she works both very small, and very big. Her work is sophisticated and dynamic. Such an amazing painter."
Las Talaveritas, 2015
"I met her a few years ago. She's originally from Mexico, and has been painting portraits of illegal immigrants. These portraits are of people she befriends, who trust her. She paints them in very intimate moments in their homes, and she paints them time and time again, developing a relationship with them. There's one little girl, who constantly appears in the paintings. The way her work traces these marginalised lives is so beautiful. The paintings are full of references to our current political situation, but also highlight the simple beauty of the people. She captures politics on a human scale."
The Doubtful (Caress), 2013
"When artists I respect, recommend me artists, I listen. They are my best advisors. Lucy Kim was one who a lot of people told me about. Her work navigates so many things; painting, the body, abstraction. She's just opened a show at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, which I've helped to organise as a member of their board. When I became a trustee there, I wanted to include more contemporary art in their programme, open the doors to the community, and get incredible, dynamic, people in there. So we started this exhibition programme in the Great Hall there, focussing on female artists. Lucy Kim is perfect for this. I am very proud of this direction that gives many people opportunity to do great things together!"
"A pure sculptor, and also someone we invited to work at the Institute of Fine Arts, before Lucy Kim. She is a maker and very involved in the process producing her own work herself. (I erased a short sentence) These two artists don't have galleries at the moment, which is a shame, because they are so relevant to the language of contemporary art that they need to be represented in the market."
"There's a lot of activism and politics in Andrea's work. She uses language, feminism, gender, but it takes many different forms. Her work brings so much to table. She's brilliant. This overlap between art and activism is needed right now, this optimism that her work has, we should try to understand that art can have an impact on our lives. Art isn't separate, it absorbs and reflects our times. Great contemporary art also makes us look at our lives in a different way. Andrea is very relevant and important in this respect."
"Her work has this sense of humour, but a purity and simplicity too, in the way it addresses issues of shame and poverty. It's especially interesting in the way it looks into the value of art today, using old craft methods of reproducing art, from woodcuts, to glass paintings. Andrea works in these craft tradition and folk arts almost against modern capitalism. But it's not so literal; it keeps its simplicity and that makes it more powerful. She has created such an intense and varied body of work, across so many different media. She's not pretentious, not overproduced, her work doesn't rely on expense or glossiness to make its point -- it's work that challenges itself and its own value. I love her work so much, I nominated her for the Max Mara Prize, which she deservedly won. And it's great she is nominated for the Turner Prize this year too."
Another Green World, 2015
"I don't need to tell you about Nicole! She's a star! I was struggling to decide whether to include her, because she's already so out there, so well known. I discovered her work when I started collecting, but only starting collecting her work a little later on. She's a genius! There's nothing more to say! Her work touches people."
Text Felix Petty
Photography Daffyd Jones