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The question is deceptively simple. Most people can name five male artists without too much hesitation, but even dedicated art lovers find themselves suddenly tongue-tied when they try to name five women. Every year during Women’s History Month museums around the world pose this question to their visitors in order to call attention to the underrepresentation of women in the art world. So if you’re asked to name five women artists, here some of our favorites, and you can see their works at SLAM right now.

1. Rachel Whiteread

I somehow managed to make memories solid.

Rachel Whiteread made history when she became the first woman to win the prestigious Turner Prize in 1993. Whiteread casts the hidden spaces above, beneath, and in-between everyday objects—mattresses, bathtubs, hot-water bottles—honoring the idea that modest objects can contain rich, personal histories. Detached III, a concrete cast of a garden shed, is on view on the Museum’s west lawn. The exhibition Rachel Whiteread, the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s 30-year career, opens at SLAM on March 17.

Artist Rachel Whiteread poses next to a piece of work from her new show, ‘Detached’ on April 11, 2013 in London, England. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images 166304681

2. Edmonia Lewis

Born in the United States before the American Civil War, Edmonia Lewis defied the conventions of her time to become the first internationally recognized black sculptor. She moved to Rome in her early 20s, where she lived among fellow American female sculptors, including Harriet HosmerPortrait of a Woman’s soft facial features, delicately carved lace bodice, and wavy hair adorned with a flower demonstrate Lewis’s skill as a sculptor. This work is on view in Gallery 336.

Edmonia Lewis, American, 1844–1907; Portrait of a Woman, 1873; marble; without base: 23 x 16 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund and partial gift of Thurlow E. Tibbs Jr. 1:1997

3. Anni Albers

Anni Albers didn’t intend to study the textiles arts at the Bauhaus, Germany’s legendary school of art, architecture, and design, but found that many courses were only open to men. She excelled in the field and went on to become one of the few women to teach at the Bauhaus. Albers is credited with introducing textiles into the world of Western fine art. Albers, who was also a printmaker, integrated complex abstract patterns into her designs. Four of her screenprints from The Triadic Series are on view in Printing Abstraction through March 31.  

Anni Albers, American (born Germany), 1899–1994; D, 1969; screenprint; sheet: 23 13/16 in. × 22 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Sidney S. and Sadie Cohen Print Purchase Fund 81:1969.2 © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2018

4. Julie Mehretu

[I’m interested in] the space in between, the moment of imagining what is possible and yet not knowing what that is.

Julie Mehretu was born in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia, but grew up in East Lansing, Michigan. She creates large-scale paintings, drawings, and prints, mining imagery from maps, diagrams, architectural blueprints, and corporate logos. Mehretu has received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” (2005) and a U.S. State Department National Medal of Arts (2015), among many other awards. Grey Space (distractor) is on view in Gallery 248.

Installation view of Grey Space (distractor)

5. Helen Frankenthaler

“Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”  

Helen Frankenthaler may have been influenced by artists like Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell (to whom she was briefly married), but her techniques were original and distinctly her own. She pioneered a method of pouring thinned paint directly onto raw canvas. The resulting forms—broad, yet carefully controlled areas of color that flood across the surface of the canvas—are abstract, but evoke the natural environment.

Installation view of Draft

#5WomenArtists was initiated by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Learn more about their campaign. 


Stay tuned—later this month, we’ll highlight five more women artists whose works have recently been added to the Museum’s collection.

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