Home Magazine 24 Intrepid women of sculpture

The present list is devoted exclusively to contemporary female sculpture artists. Sculpture by 24 women artists of the Western world who have achieved global fame - with a few exceptions - during their lifetime or posthumously. European, Central American, African-American female sculptors who made a lasting impact on 20th century art and who are today influencing the art of the 21st century. 

Related articles: Niki de Saint Phalle -  25 Most Iconic Female Painters! - 21 Black Female Painters

Why are they defined “intrepid” women? Because it was distinctly more difficult for women to achieve a position in sculpture, which ceased to be a purely male domain. Here, we propose an imaginary all-female sculpture party. Enjoy it!  

1. Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois’ 9-meters spider Mamanat Tate Modern emerged in 1999 and, meanwhile, has populated the entire globe. The prevalence of this arachnidmotif, alluding to the strength of her mother, has given rise to Bourgeois nickname as Spiderwoman. The most influential female sculptor of all time invented what is called “confessional art”.


Louise Bourgeois, Spider Woman, 2004, Drypoint, plate (oval): 9 1/4 × 6 9/16" (23.5 × 16.7 cm); sheet: 13 1/2 × 13 5/8" (34.3 × 34.6 cm), Harlan & Weaver, New York, © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY.


2. Cosima von Bonin

German artist Cosima Von Bonin (b. 1962 in Mombasa, Kenya) draws inspiration from the artistic and musical subculture in the Cologne, where she grew up, of the 1990s. Juxtapositions and collaborations are integral part of her work, which features the use of sculptures (anthropomorphic small monuments incorporated in large-scale, mixed-media installations), film and performances.


Cosima von Bonin, WHAT IF IT BARKS 5 (PETITE VERSION WITH BLUE UKULELE), 2018, Photo: Noam Preisman. 


3. Rebecca Warren

For almost three decades, British sculptor and 2006 Turner Prizewinner Rebecca Warren (b. 1965) has been working along Minimalism, Alberto Giacometti’s figures, folk culture and Impressionism. Clay, bronze, and steel sculptures precipitated from Mars, which are aloof and sumptuous. Warren’s new hand-painted bronzes are on view at the Matthew Marks Gallery.

Check it out on Matthew Marks


Rebecca Warren, Poincaré, 2006, Mixed media, hand painted, 2¾ × 2¾ × 2⅜inches; 7 × 7 × 6 cm. Edition of 35, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.


4. Eva Hesse

“I feel very close to Carl Andre. I feelemotionally connected to his work. It does something to my insides”, said the most influential sculptor of her generation Eva Hesse in a rare interview for Artforum in 1970, the last year of herbrieflife. Absurdist influences, such as Marcel Duchampand Samuel Beckett, informed the pioneering oeuvre of Hesse who always walked on the edge. 

Fragments of the audio recording from this interview are available to listen to as part of the Getty Research Institute’s podcast ‘Recording Artists: Radical Women’ hosted by Helen Molesworth. 


Eva Hesse, Oomamaboomba, 1965 Tempera, enamel, rope, cord, metal, modeling compound (glue plaster, wood-shavings), particle board, wood 56 x 65 x 13 cm / 22 x 25 5/8 x 5 1/8 in, Courtesy Hauser and Wirth, London.


5. Senga Nengudi

Moving across abstractsculpture, dance and “stationaryperformances”, the visual artist Senga Nengudi (b. 1943, Chicago) is one of thepivotal figuresof the 1970s Los Angeles African-American avant-garde. Her performance RSVP(New York, 2013), made from pantyhoseattached to the wall, was presented in conjunction with the exhibition "Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art”. 

Watch RSVP here.


DidasSenga Nengudi, RSVP (performance still), 2013, Activated by Maren Hassinger, Photo: © 2013 Nisa Ojalvo, Courtesy the Grey Art Gallery, NYU.


6. Phyllida Barlow

British artist Phyllida Barlow's first solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Zürich, “small worlds”, features new sculpturesand wall-works inspired by the 2020 lockdown in London.From the moreimposingenvironments,within her50 yearspractice, to smaller sculptures,varying in size, texture, materials, colour and shape, investigating the abstract qualities of time, weight, balance, rhythm.


Phyllida Barlow, tilt, 2018, exhibition view, Hauser & Wirth, New York, ©Phyllida Barlow, courtesy artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Alex Delfanne.


7. Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum developed a dynamic art practice that explores human struggles related to political conflict, global inequity, and being an outsider.Born in 1952 in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents and forced into exile in 1975, Hatoum transforms ordinary objects into strange surrealist sculptures. Grater Divide (2002): a common kitchen graterbecomes a divider; a scarf woven of human hair, Keffieh(1993–1999), symbolizes femininity.


Mona Hatoum, Grater Divide, 2002 - photo Iain Dickens - Courtesy White Cube e Tate Modern, Londra - © Mona Hatoum..


8. Isa Genzken

One of Germany's most important and influential contemporary artists, Isa Genzken (b. 1948) is a radical inventor. Her oeuvre is rooted in the medium of sculpture, using a wide variety of materials, including concrete, plaster, wood and textile.With a new language of found objects and collage,Genzkenhas redefined assemblage for a new era.


Isa Genzken. Schauspieler(Actors) (detail). 2013. Mannequins, clothes, shoes, fabric, and paper, dimensionsvariable. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Isa Genzken. Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin.


9. Ruth Asawa

American sculptor Ruth Asawa’s pioneering wire sculptures ended up on U.S. stamps in 2020. The artist developed her practice during her time at Black Mountain College,workingclosely with artist Josef Albers, dancer Merce Cunningham, and mathematician Max Dehn. Her iconic works- organic and intricate formsof rhythmic geometry- can be found in the collections of the Guggenheim Museumandthe Whitney Museum.


Ruth Asawa,Untitled(Hanging Group of Four, Two-Lobed Forms [S.046 a, b, c, d]), 1962. Collection of Diana Nelson and John Atwater© Estate of Ruth AsawaCourtesy The Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner. Photograph by Laurence Cuneo.


10. Simone Leigh

The Brooklyn-based artist Simone Leigh(b. 1967), renowned for her sculptures revolving around the black femalewho appear to meld with jugs and conical structures, will be the first Black woman to represent the US at the Venice Biennalein 2022. To make thosemysterious andelegant sculptures, Leigh casts molds of watermelons- a largefruit that forms the basis for a racist stereotype.


Installation view of 2018 Hugo Boss Prize winner Simone Leigh’s Guggenheim exhibition, “Loophole of Retreat.”PHOTO: DAVID HEALD © 2019 THE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM FOUNDATION


11. Doris Salcedo

The political art of Colombian-born Doris Salcedo is composed of commonplace items such as wooden furniture, clothing, concrete, grass, and rose petals. Givingform to pain, trauma, and loss, shecreates space for collective mourning.In her “memory sculptures”, Salcedo workswith materials that are already charged with significance, to the point where theybecome something else“where metamorphosis is reached”.


Doris Salcedo, Untitled, 1995, Wood, cement, steel, cloth, and leather, 7' 9" x 41" x 19" (236.2 x 104.1 x 48.2 cm), The Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation, Inc. Fund, © 2021 Doris Salcedo.


12. Niki de Saint Phalle

Ahead of her time in several aspects - art mediums, styles, techniques -, Saint Phalle is “one of the late twentieth century’s great creative personalities” (P. Schjeldahl, The New Yorker). The French-American avant-gardist is the subject of an intriguing retrospective at MOMA Ps1. Her most comprehensive, imaginative and idiosyncratic work was theTarot Garden- a large sculpture garden containingstrange creatures and female figures.

Read more about on Niki de Saint Phalle on Kooness. 


Niki de Saint Phalle, The Tarot Garden, Photograph by Peter Granser for The New Yorker.


13. Betye Saar

Thelegendof assemblagein the world of contemporary art, Betye Saar (b. 1926, Los Angeles) definesboth herself and her artistic practice“Uneasy Dancer”. “My work moves in a creative spiral with the concepts of passage, crossroads, death and rebirth, along with the underlying elements of race and gender”, explains Saar. Found objects, personal memorabilia and derogatory images grow in scale, into immersive installations. 


Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, California.


14. Rachel Whiteread

The first woman to win the annual Turner Prize in 1993, Rachel Whiteread primarily producesminimalistsculptures, which typically take the form of casts. House, her best-known work, was a concrete cast of the inside of an entire Victorian terraced houseexhibited at the location of the original house in East London.


Rachel Whiteread, House, at 193 Grove Road, London E3, 1993.  © Rachel Whiteread. Photo by Sue Omerod. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.  


15. Ursula Von Rydingsvard

With the construction of her monumental work Czara z Babelkami (2006), Polish sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard(b. 1942) reflects on how her sculptural practices relate to her family's history as World War II refugeesin America. The scale and the textures of her work are extraordinary important. Embracing the body to reflect and incorporate her dark past. 


Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Czara z Babelkami, 2006, cedar and wood sculpture, 202 in. x 125 in. x 74 in. (513.08 cm x 317.5 cm x 187.96 cm), Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Joanne and Jeffrey Klein© Ursula von Rydingsvard.


16. Magdalena Abakanowicz

Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (b. 1930) uses textiles as her principal sculptural medium.In the 1960s and 70s,she maderadical sculptures, soft, ambiguous and organic.The Crowds- group sculpturesforged in various materialsand configurations -are arguably the most important part of her creative production.The fragility of human lifecontrasts withthe cruelty perpetrated by human beings on each other over the centuries.


Magdalena Abakanowicz, from the Hurma - Multitude series, 1990-2000. Burlap, resin. © Magdalena Abakanowicz Foundation. Photo: Linda Parys.


17. Sarah Peters

The uncanny and whimsicalfiguresof Sarah Peters (b. 1973) - one of the most ambitious and interesting sculptors of her generation-come from mythology, the artist’s imagination, and her knowledge of the history of sculpture. “From Assyrian busts to Constantin Brancusi’s idealized heads to life-sized sex dolls to sci-fi humanoid countenances” (John Yau), each detail in Peter’s busts is sharp.


Sarah Petres, Tripod (Animal), 2016, Bronze, 11 × 10 × 13 1/2 in, 27.9 × 25.4 × 34.3 cm, Edition 2/5, Courtesy Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles, New York.


18.  Yasue Maetake

Originally trained in glass engraving, the Japanese born Brooklyn based artist Yasue Maetake produces “non-specific” (abstract and biomorphic) sculptures under the influence of East European Modernism.She usually usesan engineering process, drawingon laws of nature like gravityand Japanese Butoh Dance movements. As Maetake explains: “when it comes to large-scale, free-standing forms, I exhaust all possibilities I can think of”.


Yasue Maetake, Installation view of “Transmutations,” at Microscope Gallery, New York, 2021. All images courtesy the artist and Microscope Gallery.


19. Mariana Castillo Deball

The installations and sculpturesofMariana Castillo Deball(b. 1975, Mexico City) arise from the recombination of different languages: science, archaeology, and the visual arts. Interested in the idea that an historical object can be read as it presents a version of reality, she collaborates with ethnographic collectionsand historical archives, often producingmultiples- books or objects with different uses and formats.


Mariana, Castillo Deball, Mathematical distortions, 2014, Sculpture, Plaster, pigments, rabbit glue, aluminum, Artwork size, 70.0 x 94.0 x 70.0 (cm) 27.6 x 37.0 x 27.6 (inch), Courtesy Art Basel 2016.


20. Marie Hermann

Ceramic sculptureslike perfect microcosms. Like in a painting of Morandi, they are still, complete theyhave a quiet assurance. The work of Marie Hermann(b. 1979, Denmark) is influenced by the abstract geometries of De Stijl, the hermetic object-poems of the Surrealists, the Minimalist sculpture, or by artist James Turrell’s spaces. As a contemporary ceramist, Hermann creates joyful gathering of everyday potters, above the edge of things. 


Marie Hermann, A Heavy Sun, 2018, porcelain, stoneware, Courtesy Paris London Hong Kong Gallery.   


21. Alina Szapocznikow

“Seeing the sculpturesof Alina Szapocznikow for the first time can be a shock” (The Guardian, 2017). As an Holocaust survivor, Szapocznikow (1926-1973)producedalien and provokingcasts of her and her son's bodymainly in bronze and stone. Bellies, lipstick-red lips and nipples, “personified tumors”: human landscapes that are relatedto pop art, to late‑flowering surrealism, and to neo-realism.


Alina Szapocznikow. Petit Dessert I (Small Dessert I).1970–71. Colored polyester resin and glass, 3 3/16 × 4 5/16 × 5 1/8″ (8 × 11 × 13 cm). Kravis Collection. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanisławski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Thomas Mueller, courtesy Broadway 1602, New York; and Galerie Gisela Capitain GmbH, Cologne.


22. Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage (1892 -1962) was an American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance.  This precocious black woman artist, in 1937, crafted The Harp, a 16-foot sculpture cast in plasterwhich was exhibited alongside work by Willem de Kooning and Salvador Dalí. In the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, Savagetaught prominent artists such as Jacob LawrenceandGwendolyn Knight. Savage is remembered today as a great artist, activist, and arts educator.


Augusta Savage, The Harp, 1939, New York World’s Fair, New York Public Library. 


23. Judy Chicago

The Dinner Party, an iconic installation of 1970s feminist art by Judy Chicago (b. 1939, U.S.), honors 1,038 important women from history. Artist, author, feminist and educator whose career spans five decades, Judy Chicago influenced the worldwide art community. Her “first epic feminist artwork” includes subversive needleworks, sculptures and “vaginas on plates”. 

Read more about Judy Chicago on Kooness and here


Judy Chicago,The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 × 576 in. (1463 × 1463 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. (Photo: Donald Woodman).


24. Sarah Sze

The art of American sculptor Sarah Sze (b. 1969) founds value in an object, in a moment. In Sze's deep immersive installations, space, time, light all concur to generate a non static image, an in flux state of mind where everyday objects - string, Q-tips, photographs, and wire - create multimedia landscapes. She represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2013.


Sarah Sze, Triple Point (Planetarium), 2013. Installation view at the United States Pavilion, 55th International Venice Biennale, courtesy the artist.


Cover image: Sarah Sze, Triple Point (Planetarium), 2013. Installation view at the United States Pavilion, 55th International Venice Biennale, courtesy the artist. 

Written by Petra Chiodi


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