With International Women’s Day 2023 almost upon us, and the entire month of March dedicated to the accomplishments and contributions of women the world over, here’s a look at some of the most influential, famous female artists shaking up the art world.
1. Tracey Emin (British, 1963 – present )
There’s no keeping cancer survivor Tracey Emin down. This famous contemporary female artist is so brazen, she married a rock in 2016. Explaining the “hard” decision to The Art Newspaper she said: “It just means that at the moment I am not alone… and it’s not going anywhere.” Rock on!
Tracy Emin has stunned the world with a series of unusual, thought-provoking artworks based on her life. “My Bed” starring delightfully un-sexy stained underpants, used condoms, empty liquor bottles, pregnancy tests, and food-splattered sheets sold for a whopping $3.77 million at Christie’s auction in 2014.
Emin’s use of materials serves as a platform to address important topics from sexism to unreported rape, promiscuity, and public harassment. She even named an art movement called ‘Stuckism’ after her ex, Billy Childish.
📍 Where to see Tracey Emin’s work: Explore the dark territories and raw emotions distilled in the artworks of Tracey Emin, held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich.
2. Faith Ringgold (American, 1930 – present)
Harlem-born Black artist and activist Faith Ringgold started out as a public school art teacher, where her paintings titled “American People” showed the civil rights movement from a female perspective. She’s a feminist icon, empowering Black female artists over the years.
Not only has she led protests to diversify art museums, she even went to jail in the 1970s for an exhibition featuring African-style masks of her own creation and painted political posters.
Ringgold is also a skilled expert in sewing with several narrative quilts on her artistic resume. Her “Dancing at the Louvre” quilt series from the ’90s shows black families enjoying European art. Among Ringgold’s other famous quilts are “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?” (1983), the Michael Jackson tribute quilt “Who’s Bad?” (1988), and her most famous “Tar Beach” (1988).
If meaningful activist art is one of your passions, Ringgold is one of the famous women artists you should add to your list!
📍 Where to see Faith Ringgold’s work: Now adapted into a children’s story, “Tar Beach” is part of the permanent collection at the Guggenheim in New York.
3. Sonia Boyce (British, 1962 – present)
Sonia Boyce is a revolutionary face of contemporary British art. She caused a media storm in 2018 when she removed John William Waterhouse’s 1896 painting “Hylas and the Nymphs” from the wall of the Manchester Art Gallery for a week in protest of the depiction of women’s bodies in art history. This British Afro-Caribbean artist became the first Black woman to enter the Tate Gallery’s permanent collection in 1987.
This famous contemporary female painter is known for her colorful and feminine portraits, but incorporates a range of media into her work and often collaborates with other artists. In her early career, Boyce would draw herself into historic episodes where people of color had been excluded, and she’s known for exploring the links between sound and memory.
Flying the flag for black female artists, she was chosen by the British Council to be the first Black woman to represent Britain at 2021’s Venice Biennale and has taught fine art for over 30 years as a Professor of Black Art and Design at the University of the Arts London.
📍 Where to see Sonia Boyce’s work: The world’s oldest international art exhibition, Venice Biennale, featured Boyce’s work in 2021. You can see her current exhibition at the Simon Lee Gallery, the Turner Contemporary, and the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
4. Vivienne Westwood (British, 1941 – 2022)
Fashion designer and “influencer” from back before it was even a thing, Dame Vivienne Westwood brought new wave fashions to the mainstream with a flair of her own.
As one of the most famous female artists in fashion design, Westwood shot to fame in the 1970s, thanks to a Kings Road collaboration with Sex Pistols promoter and manager Malcolm McLaren. After this, she pretty much created the signature look for the emerging punk movement in London and opened a number of her own stores.
This powerhouse punk queen and famous female artist has a history of invoking controversy with shocking pieces, iconic British imagery, and political statements, which explains why the world started watching.
She soon became the go-to designer for a host of private and celebrity clients. Princess Eugenie had the good taste to don Vivienne’s label for all the ceremonies at the royal wedding in 2011, while Gwen Stefani, Olivia Wilde, Lucy Liu, and Rachel McAdams have all rocked her creations on the red carpet.
📍 Where to see Vivienne Westwood’s work: After her death in 2022, exhibits dedicated to the life and works of Vivienne Westwood cropped up all over the world. Explore some of the artist’s fashion icons in this online exhibition from the V&A, including exuberant footwear designs, bondage outfits, and provocative T-shirts from the punk years.
5. Ingrid Pollard (British, 1953 – present)
Ingrid Pollard is a British artist and photographer whose probing lens portrays the social constructs of society with an emphasis on racial differences through landscapes and portraiture.
Born in Guyana, Pollard emigrated to London with her family as a young child, where she still lives and works today. Her 1980s series of photographs titled “Pastoral Interludes” takes us into the everyday lives of Black people across English landscapes.
As a champion for fellow Black female artists, Pollard’s recent work includes a re-examination of UK and international archives with the intention of decolonizing ethnographic and state-sponsored imagery of the formerly colonized countries.
📍 Where to see Ingrid Pollard’s work: One of four nominees for the Turner Prize in 2022, her work is currently on display at the Tate Gallery in London, as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum and UK Arts Council Collection.
6. Annie Leibovitz (American, 1949 – present)
With a career spanning four decades, happy-snapper Annie Leibovitz is considered to be one of the greatest portrait photographers of our generation and one of the most famous female artists on the planet. Her work has undoubtedly changed the face of art as we all know it.
Leibovitz’s iconic portrait photography was inspired by photographers such as Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, two 20th-century artists who launched documentary photography into the present, and her ten-year role as chief photographer at Rolling Stone magazine put her on the perfect path for going solo.
Leibovitz’s models include the likes of Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk, a pregnant Demi Moore, John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, and Dolly Parton, while her most recent work still inspires many on the pages of Vanity Fair magazine. Not even the late Queen Elizabeth II escaped her all-seeing, all-exposing lens.
📍 Where to see Annie Leibovitz’s work: Annie Leibovitz presents “Upstate”, a newly completed limited-edition print that will benefit Black Lives Matter, the Equal Justice Initiative, and COVID-19 relief efforts. It comprises a grid of photographs taken while in quarantine. See it now online.
7. Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887 – 1986)
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe did for female genitalia what Mozart did for the piano. Her monumental, still-life paintings based on floral arrangements resembling vaginas made her one of the world’s most controversial, but famous female artists.
Recognized as the “Mother of American Modernism” she’s also famous for her soothing desert landscapes of New Mexico, and New York skyscrapers. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, opened 11 years after the artist’s death and was the first museum ever to be dedicated to a single woman artist in the US.
Impressively, O’Keeffe set the auction record for female artists in 2014 with her painting, “Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1” (1932), which sold for $44.4 million at Sotheby’s.
📍 Where to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s work: The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, New Mexico houses the largest collection of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work in the world. From April to August 2023, you can also catch a selection of her work at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York.
8. Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, 1929 – present)
The princess of polka dots is impossible to pin down. Yayoi Kusama‘s expansive career has seen trippy, imaginative forays into painting, collage, and environmental installations. Born in Japan in 1929, as a kid she loved nothing more than drawing and painting. When her disapproving parents tore them apart, citing art as no way to make a living, she only made more… and proved them wrong.
Kusama threw herself into pop art, minimalism, and feminist art movements long before they were mainstream, and she’s influenced contemporaries from Andy Warhol to Donald Judd. Her talents don’t stop there – Kusama is also a novelist and poet, and she’s even been known to dabble in fashion and film.
She is one of the first artists to experiment with performance and action art. What a woman… albeit a little dotty.
📍 Where to see Yayoi Kusama’s work: She is currently slotted for an encore of “Infinity Mirror Rooms” at the Tate Gallery through April 2023, and “You, Me and the Balloons” will be on display at Factory International in Manchester this summer.
9. Marina Abramovic (Serbian, 1946 – present)
Considered by many to be the “grandmother of performance art”, Serbian Marina Abramovic’s controversial work means putting herself through extreme physical and mental duress while exploring the relationship between performer and audience member.
In a piece called The Lovers (1988), she and an ex famously walked 2,500 km each towards the other from two sides of the Great Wall of China, meeting in the middle “to say goodbye.” Now that’s a breakup you won’t forget! For 1993’s “The Artist is Present”, she sat in a museum’s atrium while sometimes amused, oftentimes moved spectators took turns sitting opposite her.
In more recent years, Abramovic’s been forced to defend herself against conspiracy theorists who accused Microsoft (a partner in the artwork in question) of working with a “witch,” amongst other things, but Lady Gaga loves her. She famously helped the singer quit smoking.
📍 Where to see Marina Abramovic’s work: For the first time in the UK, Abramovic’s body of work, and a series of lectures with the artist herself, will be available to visitors at the Royal Academy of Arts from September through December 2023.
10. Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907 – 1954)
Instantly recognizable from her many self-portraits, most art fans know one of Mexico’s most famous female artists Frida Kahlo with just one glance at her eyebrows. Her eccentric lifestyle, tumultuous relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera, and tragic death make Frida Kahlo one interesting character, not to mention one of the greatest female artists of all time.
Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City at the turn of the 20th century, and much of her work is autobiographical. Stricken with polio as a child, and later affected by injuries sustained in a car accident as a teenager, Kahlo may have been restricted in movement, but her artistic talent flourished. Her surrealist style, stark conceptual contrasts, and vivid colors have solidified Frida Kahlo as one of the most famous female painters of the century.
📍 Where to see Frida Kahlo’s work: Kahlo’s complete art collection consists of around 200 paintings, sketches, and drawings, of which 143 pieces are self-portraits. Combined with other artifacts from her life, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City displays her art tools, furniture, and hundreds of articles of embroidered clothing in traditional Mexican style.
11. Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian, 1593 – 1653)
Not to be outdone by her male contemporaries like Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, Artemisia Gentileschi lived in the shadows of Italian Renaissance art until recently. As shown by this stunning self-portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi is at the forefront of women in art during the Renaissance.
She began producing professional art at the ripe age of 15, modeled after the style of Caravaggio. She made history as the first woman admitted to the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, an institution founded by the famous Medici family.
However, Gentileschi’s unparalleled talent is accompanied by trauma. Gentileschi was sexually assaulted by a fellow artist, and the subject of her paintings often reflect violent images of men and women. Paintings like “Jael and Sisera”, and “Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes” depict women reclaiming their power — usually by beheading men.
📍 Where to see Artemisia Gentileschi’s work: Often portraying biblical or mythical scenes, Artemisia Genileschi’s art graces the walls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Met in New York City, and the National Gallery in London.
12. Judy Chicago (American, 1939 – present)
Coincidentally born in Chicago, Judy Cohen changed her surname to Chicago after the deaths of both her father and her first husband. Wanting something “completely independent” from past, present, and future men in her life, she became the artist Judy Chicago.
Most famous for her installation aptly named “The Dinner Party” during the 1970s, Judy Chicago became a household name. “The Dinner Party” consists of a large triangular surface with a seating arrangement that celebrates important female figures throughout history with symbolic table settings to represent each guest.
Almost 60 years after “The Dinner Party”, Chicago’s collective work has been featured at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, including “The Birth Project”, which showcases needlework and embroidery from an array of collaborating artists depicting progressive phases of pregnancy and birth, and “The Holocaust Project”, which both honors her Jewish heritage, and the millions of victims of the Holocaust.
📍 Where to see Judy Chicago’s work: “The Dinner Party” is on permanent display at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City.
13. Maliha Abidi (American, 1998 – present)
A breakthrough artist in the world of NFT is Maliha Abidi, a Pakistani-born American artist specializing in colorful digital art, bubbly animations, and poignant illustrative commentary.
While still relatively new on the market, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) refer to block-chain based tokens that represent a unique asset, ranging from art to digital content and other media.
As the founder of WomenRise, Maliha Abidi roots her work in social justice issues impacting women all over the world. Profits from her works are often donated to organizations dedicated to gender equality, BIPOC advocacy groups, and girls’ education institutions.
📍 Where to see Maliha Abidi’s work: Abidi is the author of several books, and has created illustrations and animations for several websites. Check out her digital repertoire.
14. Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862 – 1944)
With an art collection sealed for 20 years after her death, sheer curiosity is one of the reasons why Swedish painter Hilma af Klint made her mark on this list of famous female artists.
Unbeknownst to her, Klimt is credited as one of the first artists to make abstract art in the Western world. Over her lifetime, she produced more than 1,300 original paintings and drawings – including a personal sketchbook – which were kept private for two decades after her death, per her will.
With bated breath, Klint’s work was made available after the mandate expired to a waiting world, and her art has been seen on display at venues like the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and several museums in the Netherlands.
📍 Where to see Hilma af Klint’s work: Paired in dialogue with Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, you’ll find Klint’s work at the Tate Modern in London, as well as the Kunstmuseum in The Hague, the Netherlands.
15. Maria Prymachenko (Ukrainian, 1909 – 1997)
The famous female artist who inspired both Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall has taken on a new role – the plight for Ukraine.
Maria Prymachenko’s mythical animals painted in psychedelic prints and patterns have inspired thousands over the course of her career, and her legacy is forever imprinted in the cultural fibers of Ukraine.
Her work has been featured on coins and postage stamps, and she’s become a national symbol of Ukrainian art for decades. Her fanciful designs feature creatures that mimic embroidery, quilting, and tapestries, a practice embedded in the culture of Ukrainian women.
Pyramachenko’s life is riddled with tragedy, and she was no stranger to war. She grew up in the shadow of the Nazi regime and the Iron Curtain of communism. Today, her work stands for peace and protest against Putin’s Russia. In 1966, Prymachenko was awarded the Taras Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine, one of the country’s most prestigious awards, and she never sold a single piece for money — all were gifts.
📍 Where to see Maria Prymachenko’s work: About 650 of Pyramachenko’s works can be found at The National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art in Kyiv, and her work was featured in an international exhibit as part of the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022.
With this list of famous female artists from all over the world, you’ll have one more reason to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023. Compare your favorites to the top women artists selected by female museum curators, or pop into any number of museums to find famous Renaissance artists.