#33 'Eight Artists: Women' at the Acme Gallery
50 stories from The Acme Archive
In 1978, the Hayward Annual was regarded as the first group exhibition to address gender imbalances in British Art. Artist Claire Smith felt that the exhibition fell short and missed the opportunity to explore the richness of women's’ work in general, in favour of simply showing women's' work instead of men’s. In response, she organised an exhibition at the Acme Gallery, 'Eight Artists: Women', which ran in two parts in 1980. Part one (3-25 October) featured Shelagh Cluett, Emma Park, Jozefa Rogocki and Claire Smith. Part 2 (31 October - 22 November) featured Mikey Cuddihy, Sarah Greengrass, Margaret Organ and Alison Wilding.
The eight artists featured were assembled through personal connections. Smith was familiar with the nature of each artist’s work, either through the community of artists in Acme houses, or Brighton University, where she was teaching. The artists also demonstrated different aspects of object making that were more apparent in women’s work than men’s. Smith recalls that the exhibition making process was highly collaborative, with the artists visiting each others' studios in the lead up. The process was a valuable experience for all involved and was unusual in art galleries at the time, being more reflective of the approach taken in women’s collectives than traditional curation methods.
There was a significant reaction to the exhibition in the press. This was partly due to the coincidental concurrent timing of the exhibition with the ICA’s series of three exhibitions of women’s art, and that these exhibitions took place in a year when the shortlist of 40 artists for the Arts Council’s Visual Arts award did not contain a single female artist. While much of the press focus was sensationalist coverage of the first ICA exhibition of Women’s Images of Men, the coverage of the Acme Gallery exhibition contained consistent praise for its content, with particularly favourable reviews from Waldemar Januszek in The Guardian (who further recommended it when it toured to the Gardner Arts Centre the following year) and Richard Cork in the New Standard. The exhibition also had an impact within art education, with Smith asked to speak at art colleges.