Flipping the Narrative at Victoria Miro Gallery

Victoria Miro Gallery introduced an irresistible prompt for its current online exhibition; bringing together “historical and contemporary works by female artists with a focus on depictions of male subjects.” The show highlights work from Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Sarah Ball, María Berrío, Celia Hempton, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Chantal Joffe, Maria Lassnig, Jessie Makinson, Alice Neel, Celia Paul, and Lisa Yuskavage. Running until July 4, “I See You” offers these female artists a way to reinterpret the “male gaze.”

Chantal Joffe. “Herb on the Red Stool,” 2019. Oil on board. © Chantal Joffe. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

Women have been the subject of countless works of art throughout history, mostly seen in the nude. Men as well, but of course, they’re on majestic horses or standing tall boasting the extravagance of their wealth. These depictions are wildly different. Victoria Miro Gallery recognizes the discrepancy between traditionalist perspectives and what the current discourse of the art world is demanding.

Jessie Makinson. “Furry Darkness,” 2020. Oil on canvas. © Jessie Makinson. Courtesy of the artist and Fabian Lang Gallery, Zurich.

There have always been female artists equal to and often surpassing their male contemporaries, but where is their platform? Why are female artists often so overlooked? This show seeks to enliven the excitement around female artists and does so by highlighting not only their incredible works, but their voices as well through detailed descriptions of each artist accompanying their work.

Celia Paul. “Steve,” 2019. Oil on canvas. © Celia Paul. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.

Is it enough to just be seen? Victoria Miro Gallery thinks not. Rather than just release an overarching statement about the show and say that’s that, the gallery took the time to include notes on each of the women. Highlighting their process, their achievements, their various backgrounds, and what being a woman means to them, this amalgam of works captures differing power dynamics across genders, races, ages, and cultures.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. “A Theory on Adam,” 2020. Oil on canvas, silk screen. © Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.

The works capture the complexity of what being a woman means to the artists, all the while imprinting that reality onto the figure of a man, like Joffe or Ball, or multiple men, like Makinson or Hwami. The prompt offers viewers to experience a different connection between the artist and the sitter. The gallery describes this as “how differences might be bridged by a shared understanding of consciousness – what it means to see and be seen.”

María Berrío. “The Sea Between Us,” 2020. Collage with Japanese paper, charcoal, colored pencils and watercolor paint on canvas. © María Berrío. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.

And as we all adjust to this virtual world, Victoria Miro Gallery set up an experience through Vortic, a virtual art platform, to display a rendition of their gallery space in London with the works in this show. The software used, “which [has] never been used in the industry,” creates the illusion of walking through the show yourself. As you see these works interact with each other in this online space, we become privy to the tender thoughts of women looking at men.

Sarah Ball. “Timothy,” 2020. Oil on linen. © Sarah Ball. Courtesy of the artist.