It is a much lamented fact that despite more women than men graduating from the UK’s art schools, the statistic does not extend to the number of female artists being represented by commercial galleries or given solo institutional shows.
All credit then to the Freelands Foundation for inaugurating an annual award that enables an arts organisation to present an exhibition to a mid-career female artist who may not have yet received the acclaim or public recognition her work deserves. And even more credit for the award stipulating that the arts organisation has to be a regional one, given that museums and galleries outside London have been worst hit by local and national government cuts to funding for the arts.
So the atmosphere was a very jolly one at the Freelands Mayfair HQ last night where the foundation’s founder and chair of board of trustees Elisabeth Murdoch presented the first £100,000 award to the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh to put on an exhibition of the Glasgow-based artist Jacqueline Donachie. Among the crowd were the Tate Modern director Frances Morris, the Freelands Award judge Phyllida Barlow—hot foot from installing the British pavilion in Venice—and her fellow artists Anna Barriball and Mark Wallinger.
Barlow, Barriball and Wallinger have all shown at the Fruitmarket, and been the beneficiaries of what the gallery’s director Fiona Bradley described as its policy of seeing every exhibition as a conversation, and “not making artists jump through any hoops apart from their own”. Bradley recalled that the entire gallery staff had rallied round to help Barriball make one of her graphite drawings for her Fruitmarket show.
Everyone agreed that Donachie was the perfect choice. Despite being part of an esteemed “Glasgow miracle” generation including Douglas Gordon, Christine Borland, Nathan Coley and Martin Boyce, and even though she is widely admired for her participatory, community-based work, Donachie has never had a career-spanning exhibition that has permitted an overall appraisal of her practice. For her part, the refreshingly down-to-earth artist admitted that her £25,000 portion of the award would still have to be kept separate from other life demands such as “children, cat buying and roof fixing”.
It is cheering that at least one branch of the Murdoch clan is dedicated to supporting our increasingly beleaguered cultural landscape.