Gallerist, curator, consultant, and pillar of progressive platforming Annie Wharton started Ladies’ Room — the Los Angeles-based contemporary art gallery where it’s always Women’s History Month — five years ago, but her vision has never been timelier.
“Working in the visual arts for more than 20 years, I have seen firsthand how women and nonbinary artists are not being exhibited, collected, researched or written about like their male counterparts,” Wharton tells the L.A. Weekly. “I have conducted over 4,000 studio visits with artists in Los Angeles, a city rich with artistic talent, yet lacking in opportunities for women and nonbinary artists.” In December 2018, Wharton opened Ladies’ Room to provide a platform to help counter this disparity.
Ladies’ Room operates out of a small space in downtown’s historic Bendix Building — a hub of artist studios, galleries and creative spaces — but the gallery itself has maintained an online-only presence since 2021, alternating between deep dive solo shows and broader thematic exhibitions, with an ever-growing biennial series called GARDEN dedicated to the food justice space. “The gallery was started during a dark political time, where many women were feeling a sort of helplessness and hopelessness,” she says. “I was like, ‘fuck this, let’s change the things we can.’”
Wharton set out to champion a project that could really make a difference. To date, the gallery has shown almost 200 artists, placing a number of their works in institutional and private collections, attracting press attention and launching further opportunities for them, sometimes in the form of other exhibitions, and sometimes in tandem with her robust art consulting practice. Some of her artists like Felice Grodin and Kristin Posehn pursue practices that include digital artworks or NFTs, as well as a lot of video and film artists, but at the core of the program you’ll find painting and ceramics, textile and sculpture, and an abiding love of texture, color, nature and embodied self-possession.
“I’m not doing this in a vacuum,” says Wharton. “So many people in L.A. have worked to support and champion female and nonbinary artists. Projects like Micol Hebron’s Gallery Tally and Kim Schoenstadt’s NowBeHere directory shine light on the incredible wealth of talent in this realm. I’ve worked with both of these brilliant artists, and see them continue to bolster the dialogue around women and nonbinary people making art.”
While intentional practices like Wharton’s do make a difference, as a newly released Artsy.net study by Arun Kakar and Casey Lesser reveals, there is so much more work to be done — with women artists accounting for just under ten percent of art market sales in 2022, and non-binary artists less than one percent. Those numbers drop to six percent and zero, respectively, in the auction results. And believe it or not, those figures represent an improvement over previous years. “But I am happy to share,” says Wharton, “that with an idea, a lot of research, and a genuine love for art and artists, important progress can transpire for all involved.”
Ladies’ Room has two exhibitions currently online through May 27. WORK features objects by Becca Van K, Felice Grodin, Karen Kuo, Meghann Mccrory, Nicki Voss, Rebecca Kaufman, Renata Daina, Samira Yamin, Shiyuan Xu, Stephanie Robison that, in an array of media and idioms of functionality, elevate labor as a powerful element of both creativity and society. The artists’ assertively intensive processes demonstrate an obsessive dedication to cutting, drawing, carving, stitching, and weaving complex patterns representing qualities of skill, craft and attention.
Meike Legler: Himmelskörper (Heavenly Bodies) is a solo presentation of hand-sewn compositions that thoughtfully reference tropes of modern abstract painting, within an intentional reframing of textile as dismissible “women’s work.” After moving to Los Angeles from Berlin and London, with a wealth of education and experience in the garment and couture sector, she began incorporating more unconventional, adventurous materials like automotive tarps and faux fur into her elaborate “paintings,” further blurring arbitrary gender-associated categories of materiality and visual language.
“This planet has challenges,” says Wharton. “I believe that art, artists, artisans and other creatives will save us all. It’s a cultural imperative that artists and artworkers continue to cultivate transformative experiences. We need art to expand consciousness, to heal and to bridge divides across cultures. If my work can open minds and enrich culture while helping artists to attain exposure to curators and collectors who support their practice, then I’ve done my job.”
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