The prestigious Venice Biennale, on view now through November 27, features a preponderance of female artists in Cecilia Alemani's The Milk of Dreams central exhibition—among them, a rising star artist, the 87-year-old Paula Rego whose work is concurrently on view at Victoria Miro’s Venice gallery and the Picasso Museum in Spain.
The present exhibition in Spain featuring Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego (b. 1935) presents works of extraordinary imaginative power at Museo Picasso Málaga, now through August, 21, 2022. Rego redefined figurative art and revolutionized the way in which women are represented.
The exhibition, formerly on view at the Tate Britain, tells the story of this artist’s remarkable life, highlighting the personal nature of much of her work and the socio-political context in which it is rooted. It reveals her broad range of references, from comic strips to history paintings. Featuring over 80 works including collage, paintings, large-scale pastels, drawings and etchings, the show spans Rego’s early work from the 1960s to her richly layered, staged scenes of the first two decades of this century.
In her paintings, collages and drawings from the 1960s to 70s, Rego passionately and fiercely opposed the Portuguese dictatorship, using a range of sources for inspiration including advertisements, caricatures and news stories. She also explored folk tales as representations of human psyche and behaviour, as with Brancaflor – The Devil and the Devil’s Wife in Bed 1975. Rego abandoned collage in 1980 and returned to painting, combining childhood memories with her experiences as a woman, wife and lover. The exhibition includes major paintings from this period such as examples from ‘The Vivian Girls’ series, in which girls rebel against a coercive society, and the seminal works that established Rego’s reputation.
Throughout her career, Rego has been fascinated with storytelling and this imbues much of her work. The exhibition includes prints from her series Nursery Rhymes 1989 in which Rego explores the strangeness and cruelty of traditional British children’s songs. As the first artist-in-residence at the National Gallery, Rego also took inspiration from art history, weaving references to old masters such as Hogarth and Velázquez into paintings in which the protagonists are women, exploring their struggle and their journey towards emancipation, as in The Artist in Her Studio, 1993.
The exhibition features Rego’s large pastels of single, female figures from the 1990s to 2000s, including ‘Abortion’ series, some of the artist’s most celebrated and arresting pictures. Works from the ‘Abortion’ series, which the artist was proud to see used to campaign for the legalisation of abortion in Portugal, depict women in the aftermath of illegal abortions. Possession 2004, another major series of pastels rarely exhibited, combines Rego’s personal experience of depression and therapy with inspiration from 19th century staged photographs of women diagnosed as suffering from ‘hysteria’.
Museo Picasso Málaga is once again working to showcase 20th-century female artists, following the exhibitions dedicated to Sophie Taeuber-Arp (2009), Hilma af Klint (2013), Louise Bourgeois (2015) and We are Completely Free. Women Artists and Surrealism (2017).
Paula Rego is organized by Tate Britain in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Museo Picasso Málaga. The exhibition is curated by Elena Crippa, Senior Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, with Zuzana Flašková, Assistant Curator, Tate. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue in Spanish and in English.
Paula Rego was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1935, during the authoritarian dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. Her parents were anti-fascists and Anglophile, and wanted their daughter to live in a liberal country. At the age of sixteen, she was enrolled in a finishing school in Kent, England. She went on to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1952–56), where she met fellow painting student Victor Willing, whom she married in 1959. After graduating, Rego and her family lived between Britain and Portugal and settled in London in 1972. She represented both nations at the São Paulo Biennial: Portugal in 1969, and Great Britain in 1985. In 1988, Willing died following a long-term illness. The same year, Rego’s solo exhibitions at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Serralves Museum, Porto, and Serpentine Gallery, London, cemented her reputation as a major contemporary artist. In 1990, she became the first Associate Artist of the National Gallery, London. She had numerous retrospective exhibitions including at Tate Liverpool, 1997, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2007, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey and Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, 2010–11, and Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 2018. In 2009, a museum dedicated to her work, Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, opened in Cascais, Portugal. The documentary Paula Rego, Secrets and Stories, directed by her son Nick Willing, was released in 2017. In 2022, she is part of the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale, in the exhibition The Milk of Dreams, in the central pavilion. Rego lives and works in London.