“If You See An Empty Space, Put A Picture In Its Place”. A saying favoured, I suspect, by artists more than curators. But it’s these words that pop into my head as I sail around the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea.
It’s a lovely space, an airy municipal pile in the centre of the city. Like so many others, it is based on the collection of a wealthy and privileged Victorian who travelled the world snapping up whatever arts and artefacts he fancied and leaving them (thank goodness!) in public hands.
Curators, I’m sure, are taught to respect the white space as much as any typographer and you rarely see paintings stacked to the rafters these days. So why do I feel slightly short-changed? Especially since I parted with no money in the first place. Ingrate.
There are, of course, some great wonders to see, and beautifully arrayed. But my discomfort only increased when I entered the exhibition billed, “Women in Art: Portraits from the Collection”. Oh good, I thought, a rare chance to learn more about female portrait artists. But I knew something was awry when one of the first paintings to catch my eye was by the otherwise estimable Wyndham Lewis. Eh?
Out of 18 portraits, only seven were by actual female women. This was not my expectation. The blurb on the information board compounded matters by saying the collection was brought together to mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act which “gave” the vote to (some) women for the first time.
It’s not my place to gripe, but here was an open goal. Certainly, the collection only has what it has in its collection but surely a few phone calls could have garnered some contemporary Welsh talent and put the likes of Ceri Richards, William Roberts and Evan Walters back on the bench for now?
Anyway, on a more positive note, here are some of the truly wonderful female artists on display, including my new favourite, Shani Rhys James.