It has been forty years since her brush with the law, now the humorous, immensely skilled and often rebellious Margaret Harrison, is preparing to exhibit at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima.) Harrison’s exhibition of sexually-charged works at Motif Editions Gallery, London in 1971, was branded ‘indecent’ by the police and shut down after one day. Harrison has since expanded her politically-engaged and feminist-driven approach to art making, evident in her solo show opening at mima in October.
As one of the founders of the London Women’s Liberation Art Group in 1970, Harrison has always been at the forefront of addressing social concerns and political controversy. The exhibition will survey her output from the 1980s to the present day, with her latest work engaging with notions of opposition, transition and transformation. The focus of the show will be protest and the articulation of protest through processes of making, a fitting concern for mima, an organisation that has recently relaunched as the useful museum.
Harrison’s practice has always explored the countless economic transformations of the current age, from women’s labour movement to militarisation, and today she is readdressing these interests in the light of contemporary life. More recently she has also embraced themes of cultural history such as the mainstream representations of female beauty in the Western pictorial tradition. Some of her most recent works are very much invested not just in stereotypes of politics, masculinity and femininity but also in art history and common representations of beauty.
Using a range of media and subjects, the exhibition features two existing installations: The Last Gaze, presented for the Northern Art Prize in 2013 and Common Reflections (2013), a representation of the fence at Greenham Common, produced using concrete, wire fencing, corrugated zinc and mirror panels. mima will also show drawings including: the Beautiful Ugly Violence series, a critique of domestic violence; and Very Close To Getting In Touch With My Masculinity, a series of satirical drawings of superheroes with female attributes.
Speaking about her practice over the years since that first solo show, Harrison said: “Gradually, we began to have dialogues around political action, partly inspired by events such as the Vietnam War, 1968 in the USA, Paris and London, particularly with art school occupations and direct action against the Arts Council of Great Britain with its lack of transparency.”
mima Director, Alistair Hudson, said: “We’re honoured to be showcasing one of today’s most significant artists at mima. For over 50 years she has been challenging the establishment and been highly effective in forcing real changes in social attitudes. There are some great pieces in the show as well as a brand new major commission which draws on Heironymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, so it really is an exhibition not to be missed.”
Born in 1940, Margaret Harrison studied at the Carlisle College of Art from 1957 to 1961; the Royal Academy Schools, London from 1961 to 1964; and graduated from the Perugia Fine Arts Academy, Italy, in 1965.
Opening on 24 October her show promises to be truly inspiring and provocative political statement and a testament to the artist herself.