By Alison Clare
The Russell Cotes Museum is as ‘Museum’ as they get; at the turn of the last century, Annie Russell-Cotes donated the grand villa and its contents to the town of Bournemouth, and it has been maintained close to its original state ever since.
This declaration of the house from its former female proprietor to the establishment should, therefore, lay a comfortable background for the Museum’s current exhibition. The show, entitled ‘Dangerous Women! From Kauffmann to Emin’ sets out to encompass the female in rebellion, from an age when women were not only insufficiently praised as painters but remained unrecognised; to Emin, the institutional babe of the YBAs, the dame in her throne at the Royal Academy.
So why, one may ask, when outlining this journey of women artists would some of the show’s most contemporary and thought-provoking artists not be considered? ‘Part Of That World’, a pseudo-performance cum green screen video piece created by recent graduates of the Arts University Bournemouth, Rachel Howard and Robin James Sullivan, albeit with a hefty amount of digital pizzaz, provokes some significant questions as to what is it to be a woman in today’s age. True, ‘From Kauffmann to Sullivan’ doesn’t quite hold the same tone to the household ear, but when lumped in the same ‘Contemporary Art Corner’ as Emin, what’s really the difference?
This is not in dismissal to some of the real ‘Dangerous Women’ in the exhibition. A pastel drawing by the free-living, free-thinking Amy Drucker tells a remarkable tale of the artist, her empowering image of mother and child is timeless and ethereal, and its presence in the show outlines some extensive research. But the selection is in parts questionable; May Cooksey, whose ‘danger’, according to the description of the work was being from a working class family, as opposed to the recurring theme of the rebellious daughter from an aristocratic family. #ohmy #birmingham
The show had potential; after all it invited a male performance artist in drag to be in a show about women. This surely shows a serious step forward for the conservative town of Bournemouth, yet still the heavy weight of ‘the museum’ remains. Works selected from Emin were evocative, from her 1995 heyday, a far cry from her current Band Aid 30 Artwork, but even these now so socially accepted works are segregated. Encompassing all the wrong dangers, the modern art corneris cut off by metaphorical police tape.
Within the museum, is it even possible to demonstrate the breadth of danger if context is dictated to a sectionalised space? How can the viewer be expected to take the space and time to relinquish an artwork, new or old, if it continues to be treated as a relic? From what I can gather, the only dangerous woman here is a man.
Alison Clare is an artist, curator, writer, chef and image collector
based in Bournemouth.