London's Saatchi Gallery opens landmark women-only show

A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Church Boats by Sigrid Holmwood.
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Church Boats by Sigrid Holmwood.PHOTO: AFP
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Two Cows by Stephanie Quayle.
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Two Cows by Stephanie Quayle. PHOTO: AFP
A visitor looking at an installation entitled Untitled (Food For Thought series) by Maha Malluh.
A visitor looking at an installation entitled Untitled (Food For Thought series) by Maha Malluh.PHOTO: AFP
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Champagne Life by Julia Wachtel.
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Champagne Life by Julia Wachtel.PHOTO: AFP
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Moje Sabz by Soheila Sokhanvari.
A gallery assistant posing for a photograph with an installation entitled Moje Sabz by Soheila Sokhanvari. PHOTO: AFP
Installations entitled Bound (left) and 181 Kilometres by Alice Anderson.
Installations entitled Bound (left) and 181 Kilometres by Alice Anderson.PHOTO: AFP
An installation entitled Lion Man by Stephanie Quayle.
An installation entitled Lion Man by Stephanie Quayle. PHOTO: AFP
An installation entitled Echoue au seuil de la raison by Virgile Ittah.
An installation entitled Echoue au seuil de la raison by Virgile Ittah. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - For the first time in its 30-year history, London's influential Saatchi Gallery is to hold a female-only exhibition, showcasing 14 of the brightest stars in the art world.

Exhibits at the Champagne Life show include stuffed animals, giant portraits, abstract sculptures and a giant wall of saucepans. The show's organisers said the works highlighted the diversity among female art, and its value to art lovers of both genders.

"We're not bringing them together as some kind of needy group, this really is about celebrating women's contemporary art and being quite deliberate in saying these women don't have anything in common," Saatchi Gallery CEO Nigel Hurst told AFP.

The gallery has established a reputation for supporting female artists, helping launch the career of Tracey Emin, among others, and hopes the exhibition will contribute to redressing disparities within the industry.

"The art world has a glass ceiling. If you look at the number of people going to art college it pretty much splits 50/50. If you look at the top 50 auction lots in 2015, only three of them were by women artists," said Hurst.

Wider exposure would boost the price of female artwork, he added, urging gallery bosses to modernise. "The art industry is like every other industry, if you take a break from what you are doing, you are perceived as less focused, less professional, less serious than you should be," he said. "Even though it's getting much better, a huge amount of work remains."

The exhibition takes up two floors of the grand gallery in Chelsea, south-west London, and comprises works from all corners of the globe. Standout exhibits include Anglo/Swedish artist Sigrid Holmwood's paintings - which recall the Dutch peasant scenes of Pieter Bruegel and the lighting of Impressionist master Rembrandt - taken to psychedelic extremes with the use of fluorescent paint.

Another room is dominated by Serbian artist Jelena Bulajic's hyperreal portraits of elderly women fashioned from marble dust, granite, limestone and graphite. Next door, Saudi Arabia artist Maha Malluh's wall of saucepans looks down on Iranian-born Soheila Sokhanvari's stuffed horse, which straddles a Jeff Koons-style balloon sculpture.

French-born sculptor Virgile Ittah, whose wax sculpture of two mirrored figures laying on hospital beds is on display, told AFP that female artists were now being taken more seriously.

"We are at a turning point in our society where the issue of gender is not so important any more, it's important that it's no longer important," she said. "I grew up with my dad alone, so the vision of a mother staying at home and taking care of her children and the kitchen has completely disappeared.

"As artists we are a reflection of society," she added. "It's not a male club any more."

The show opens on Wednesday (Jan 13), and will run until March 6.