5 Women Contemporary Visual Artists to Know

This Women’s History Month, we wanted to give you the opportunity to take a deep-dive into the careers of women contemporary artists who are making bold moves and initiating important conversations in the art community. You may have seen some of their pieces in Boston’s museums or in locations across the northeast, but there are other ways to connect with their bodies of work virtually, including in digital tours of exhibits like the Museum of Fine Art’s “Women Take the Floor.” No matter if you’re meeting these artists for the first time, or have been familiar with their work, it’s always worth building your knowledge of the artists who have shaped and are shaping the art world today and for generations to come.

Yayoi Kusama

“Kusama: Cosmic Nature,” opens this spring at the New York Botanical Garden, via Boston Globe

Widely known for her unmistakable and immersive style of pop art, Kusama’s work was most recently seen in Boston at the ICA for “LOVE IS CALLING.” For those who didn’t get to experience the artist’s mezmerizing infinity room, her newest exhibit, “Kusama: Cosmic Nature,” opens this spring at the New York Botanical Gardens, which will be an outdoor extravaganza of her “signature polka-dotted organic forms and mesmerizing images of plants and flowers,” as noted in The Boston Globe. Throughout her extensive career, the Japanese artist (who recently celebrated her 92nd birthday), has connected with art lovers around themes of mental health and identity, and to feel her her contributions to the art world reverberating across generations is surely a gift to witness.

Lorraine O’Grady

Lorraine O’Grady’s artist rendering for “The Strange Taxi, Stretched.” Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum via Boston Globe

Another artist with a career spanning decades is Lorraine O’Grady, seen most recently in Boston with her work “The Strange Taxi, Stretched” on the facade at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. O’Grady’s presence in the art world is palpable, and she has been celebrated for her unique style of expression across multiple mediums including performance art and writing (a recent collection Lorraine O’Grady: Writing in Space was published just in 2020.) As an artist with a non-linear path who has been active in spaces of cultural resistance, there is much to be gleaned from her career, and recent profiles from media platforms like Vulture and the New York Times have done excellent jobs at painting a full picture of the artist’s substantial and acclaimed, albiet sometimes overlooked, body of work.

Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer galleries at MASS MoCA. Kaelan Burkett/MassMoCA via Boston Globe

Since the 1970’s, Holzer has been known for her series of “Truisms,” which are strategically-displayed sayings ranging across a broad spectrum of topics from love, to war, to every day life. Currently in an exhibit on display at Mass MoCA, you can witness the different iterations the artist has created with this project — you’ll see sayings printed on skateboards, LED signs, articles of clothing, or even on public benches and signs. With phrases like “Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” her statements from various projects over the decades show the cyclical nature of time, and how ideas resonate and change as culture changes over the years.

Lorna Simpson

She, Lorna Simpson, 1992. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. via Boston Magazine

Simpson became known in the 1980’s for her large-scale photography that address concepts such as racism, beauty, and history. Her piece “She,” pictured here is currently on display as part of “Women Take the Floor” and the Museum of Fine Arts, and the artist’s website is a fantastic resource if you’re looking to get to know her work on a deeper level. Over the course of her career, Simpson has used art to challenge narrow-minded views on gender, culture, and the human body, specifically using the image of not-fully-seen individuals to embody her vision of seeing people in a more fluid manner.

Simone Leigh

Simone Leigh, “Las Meninas”, Simone Leigh, via ArtNews

Simone Leigh is a sculpture artist who recently was selected to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale in 2022, presented by Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Leigh’s work deals with issues of race, gender, and history, and specifically examines the African diaspora and the Black female form. Her 2019 sculpture “Cupboard IX” was recently featured at the ICA, and heading into 2022, the museum will showcase more of her sculptures and figure works leading up to the event. ICA chief curator Eva Respini told the Boston Globe in October 2020, that Leigh is “one of the most gifted and respected artists working today.”

Header photo: Jenny Holzer, on view now at Mass MoCA. Credit: Kaelan Burkett

Elena Pearl, Patron Services ManagerElena Morris (she/her/hers) is ArtsBoston’s Community Outreach and Marketing Manager. She is a dramaturg and arts administrator passionate about forward-thinking in the arts. Elena holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University, focusing her studies on dramatic literature and movement.
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