The Brave and Unrepentant Betty Woodman

Betty Woodman for The Guardian photographed by Graeme Robertson
Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

I am not really one for collecting idols, I am, all too often, attempting to get rid of some that are clinging on, but, today I concede.

Betty Woodman is, in my eyes anyway, worthy of adoration and admiration.

Born in 1930 to a loving and rather ordinary family, the American was, unbeknownst to anyone, never going to be ordinary. Woodman began her career in the 50s, brave and unrepentant about her immense love of the arts. The era was still rather adamant that women belonged in the home, and, if asked, they were not permitted to have an opinion.

The 86 year old has blazed a trail, not only did she defy all expectations in society, she has dedicated her life to challenging modern perspectives of ceramics and sculpting.

“I’ve thought of myself as an artist for 30 years, but the art world has not.”

Astoundingly, Woodman waited 30 years before unveiling her first ever UK exhibition. “I’ve thought of myself as an artist for 30 years, but the art world has not.”

Founded in 1946, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)  was a perfect space to showcase the immensely complex styles and mediums practiced by the ever evolving artist and her deep  understanding of radical art and culture.

Woodman is a lady not shy of confrontation. She challenges perspectives, placing traditional items on the floor rather than hanging them up, fuses materials in innovative ways, plays with dimension, calling her work “a marriage of surface and form,” and does so whilst fighting against the prejudice and oppression that has plagued we of the fairer sex.

In a recent sit down with ICA’s Head of Programme, Katharine Stout, Betty Woodman was unsurprisingly forthright.

“You’ve always gone your own way, and I think that’s the true course of art history, those who have gone their own way rather than followed a trend or a style. There’s such scrutiny, or hyper awareness of everything else and contemporary art is so pluralist, so perhaps it’s harder for artists to just follow their own path. I think it is, but on the other hand everything is possible, including ceramics.”

In a move, somewhat unusual for a artist of such lofty notoriety and eccentricity, Betty Woodman invited and urged a world of art lovers to explore her work, firstly with her exhibitions, then in open and broadcasted discussion and exploration with ICA curator, Vincenzo de Bellis;


The ICA exhibition followed her first solo museum show in Italy, at the Museo Marino Marini in Florence which is the artist’s second home and where she has been living and working for six months of every year for over 50 years. Although each exhibition will have a bespoke selection of works, they will both focus on her recent production, especially works made after 2006, the year of her major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, while taking stock of her continued relevance to contemporary art and her importance among post-World War II artists.

Edited by Ivy Joseph

Daisy Sells


Daisy began her career as a travel PR representing numerous international Tourist Boards and luxury, lifestyle, and charity projects. Her passion and tenacity teamed with 8 years of experience has taught her to be a strong champion of both PR and journalism whilst appreciating and respecting the nuances of both. She is passionate about exploring and questioning the world around her and draws inspiration from all walks of life, unfazed by eccentricity, pop culture, politics or social and global issues. Daisy is somewhat unconventional, occasionally controversial, doggedly determined and infuriatingly curious.

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