Max Mara Art Prize for Women

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In 1971, American art historian Linda Nochlin asked: “Why have there been no great female artists?” The question shook the art world as academics, curators, gallerists, and artists scrambled through textbooks, gallery programs, and museums only to discover the staggering biases faced by women in the arts. Extraordinary female artists have existed throughout time and continue to be equally as compelling as their male counterparts, but require a platform to be recognized and prized.

The Max Mara Art Prize for Women is poised to directly confront Nochlin’s question. Presented by the Italian fashion label in conjunction with Whitechapel Gallery and awarded by an all-female jury, the prize is given to an emerging female artist in the U.K. every two years. The sixth edition’s winner, named earlier this month, is London-based multimedia artist Emma Hart.

Hart’s work, which was chosen from a list of finalists including Ruth Ewan, Ana Genovés, Tania Kovats, and Phoebe Unwin, blends ceramic sketches, sound, video, and photography to create forceful, corporeal work. Her portfolio includes standout pieces such as The Pits, where crass orange arms prop up ceramic outlines of wine bottles and glasses; the floorboards are stained, mimicking perspiration under the ceramic limbs. Another work, from the series “Mates”, presents a laptop held up by frail ceramic body parts, playing a video of lips saying the words “you” “feel” “great” “here”. It’s an overtly sexual work, hitting at the ways bodies are disseminated and consumed in the digital age.

Unlike many accolades of its kind, the Max Mara Art Prize is not a direct-deposit cash donation. Instead, the award is specifically tailored to the artist’s process. For Hart, this means fuelling her interest in the Milan Systems approach, a family therapy method that she will research during her time in Todi, Umbira. From there, Hart will study at Italian artist Alighiero Boetti’s studio, as well as visit famed ceramics district Deruta, Perugia before completing her time at Faenza, Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna to continue her study of ceramics. Rounding out the award, Hart is slated to present a solo exhibition of her work made during this time at Whitechapel Gallery, a space notable for giving Sarah Lucas, Cindy Sherman, and Frida Kahlo major solo exhibitions. Hart’s exhibition will then travel to Collezione Maramotti at Max Mara headquarters.

With projects including the Max Mara Art Prize for Women and artist such as Hart, it seems that Nochlin’s rhetorical question is receiving a long belated rebuttal.

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February 16, 2016