Pauline Boty British Pop Art’s Forgotten Feminist Prototype

The first exhibition to showcase the work and career of Pauline Boty (1938-1966), a key member of the British Pop Art movement, opened at Wolverhampton Art Gallery on 1st  June. Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman (1 June – 16 November 2013) is the first public exhibition to explore her career as a whole and reinstate her at the forefront of British Pop Art. It includes works which have not been seen for over 40 years. Largely overshadowed by her male Pop Art counterparts until recently, Boty was one of the few women associated with the Pop Art movement and she produced a vibrant body of work. She is now acknowledged as one of the leading exponents of the Pop Art genre.

Co-curated by Dr Sue Tate, this exhibition features over 40 works from private and public collections and has been developed with the close co-operation of the artist’s family, Whitford Fine Art and the Mayor Gallery, London. The exhibition follows Boty’s artistic progression from early experimentation with various media such as painting and stained glass to a series of sexually and politically-charged paintings and collages. Her oeuvre enriches the male-dominated sphere of Pop Art with a female perspective and it both celebrates and critiques mass cultural experience, exploring themes of female sexuality, gender, race and politics.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery is home to one of the largest and most significant collections of Pop Art outside London. Key pieces in this exhibition include The Only Blonde in the World (1963), My Colouring Book (1963), It’s a Man’s World II (1965-6), BUM (1966) and Untitled (Self Portrait) (c.1955). One of the exhibition’s highlights is Colour Her Gone (1962), a painting based on a photograph of Pop culture icon Marilyn Monroe, which was acquired by Wolverhampton Art Gallery in 2012 with support from the Art Fund and the Friends of Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Monroe was a fascinating subject for Boty, who returned to the theme repeatedly because of her provocative yet vulnerable sexuality and overwhelming stature as a celebrity.

The exhibition will also feature contextualising material with rare items on loan from Boty’s family including a sketch book dated 1954, theatre programmes she designed for the Royal Court and archive materials from contemporary magazines, newspapers cuttings and photographs.

Curator Marguerite Nugent writes; “This is a long overdue presentation of Boty’s work and we intend to re-contextualise her within both the Pop Art and Feminist Art movements. The show continues our commitment to exhibit artists who played a significant role in the development of Pop but whose work is under-represented in UK public collections and thereby shedding new light on art histories.”

Pauline Boty (1938-1966) was a key member of British Pop Art. Studying at the Royal College of Art, she was a friend and colleague of David Hockney, Sir Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips. In 1961, Boty received positive attention in the national press for the Pop sensibility of collages exhibited alongside Peter Blake. In addition, she was one of the four artists profiled in Ken Russell’s landmark 1962 documentary on English Pop Art, Pop Goes The Easel. This innovative and influential film for the BBC’s Monitor series placed Boty at the centre of emergent British Pop and gave an insight into her working methods. Boty’s premature death in 1966 cut her career short and her works were not exhibited for nearly thirty years. Until recently, her work has been largely overlooked, lost in the limelight cast on her male Pop Art counterparts.

 Wolverhampton Art Gallery is holding a Women and Pop Art Symposium on Friday 27 September 2013, which will explore themes around women and Pop Art, establishing and reassessing their role and contribution to the movement. This will include a keynote lecture by the exhibition’s co-curator Dr Sue Tate.

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