Back to Library displays

The Show Must Go On: Exhibiting Sculpture by Women in Twentieth-Century Britain

9 April – 25 September 2022

Exhibiting societies run by women for women have been in existence since the mid-nineteenth century. In the first half of the twentieth century one of the most important groups was the Women’s International Art Club (WIAC), established in 1900. Sculptors including Barbara Hepworth, Karin Jonzen, Joan Moore and Betty Rea regularly exhibited with WIAC and the Club also provided a platform for younger artists including Anthea Alley and Wendy Taylor, the latter of whom participated in the 1965 annual WIAC exhibition while studying at St Martin’s School of Art.

During the 1970s numerous surveys of women’s art, both past and present, were held across the world in the wake of the women’s movement. Initially no such exhibitions were held in the UK, with representation still remaining poor. In 1975 feminist protesters staged a demonstration against The Condition of Sculpture exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London, which included only four women out of a total of forty artists. Shortly after, the artist Liliane Lijn approached the Tate Gallery to propose an exhibition of contemporary art by women. Although this was unsuccessful, Lijn and fellow artists Rita Donagh, Tess Jaray, Kim Lim and Gillian Wise were later invited to organise the second Hayward Annual in 1978, an exhibition that became dubbed ‘the women’s show’.

A number of contemporary survey shows of art by women were held in the UK following this, including several specifically dedicated to sculpture, such as Sculpture by Women at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1983) and Third Generation: Women Sculptors Today at the Drew Gallery, Canterbury (1986). Drawing on art historians Linda Nochlin and Ann Sutherland Harris’ seminal 1976 exhibition Women Artists: 1550-1950 at the Los Angeles County Museum, Nottingham Castle Museum also mounted its own historical survey exhibition Women’s Art Show, 1550-1970 (1982). Although these exhibitions marked key interventions in the histories of exhibiting art by women, with the exception of the 1978 Hayward Annual they have largely been omitted from art historical accounts. Held in artist-led or regional galleries, they highlight the need to consider a wider geographical remit and range of gallery spaces when approaching exhibition practices of the period.

Researching Women in Sculpture

This display accompanies our current research season, which runs from March to September 2022.

Researching Women in Sculpture reflects upon women's contribution to the field of sculpture, investigating archival and collecting practices that have historically obscured work by women and suggesting strategies for how these might be addressed going forward.

Find out more about our Researching Women in Sculpture Research Season