Fetishism, violence and desire: Alexis Hunter in London

‘Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds’ at London's Richard Saltoun Gallery focuses on the artist’s work from the 1970s, disrupting sexual stereotypes

‘Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds’ at London's Richard Saltoun gallery: photographs of table set for anniversary and woman's hands holding axe to smash same table years later
Alexis Hunter (1948-2014), Domestic Warfare, 1979, from a series of 20 c-type photographs, printed 2012
(Image credit: Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome. Copyright The Estate of the Artist)

The pervasive, perversive nature of advertising fascinated Alexis Hunter (1948-2014), who experimented with the rapid-fire power of images in her work created in the 1970s. Now, an exhibition at London’s Richard Saltoun Gallery, ‘Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds’ – referring to the minimum time it takes for an advert to have an impact –delves into the photographic narratives she created in this period.

‘The Tate Britain exhibition, “Women in Revolt“[until 7 April 2024], opened just as I was navigating Hunter’s archive [last November],’ curator Natasha Hoare tells us. ‘The exhibition features a key work, The Marxist’s Wife (still does the housework) (1978/2005), which displays Hunter’s wit and intellectual engagement with second-wave feminism. Given that the [Tate Britain] exhibition is a far-reaching group show, with often only singular works to represent each artist, it seemed important to have a concurrent exhibition in London that provided a broader perspective on this seismic period of Hunter’s life and practice. This period also shows an evolution of her political consciousness expressed through visual means – from initial investigations into identity, perception, and sexual politics, through the photo narratives that so powerfully merge personal experience with psychoanalysis and feminist political and aesthetic theory.’

‘Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds’

series of three framed photographs of nude woman with gun

Alexis Hunter, The Model’s Revenge I-III, 1974

(Image credit: Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome. Copyright The Estate of the Artist)

Hunter brought a palpable anger to this string of academic references, reflecting on advertising’s tendency to manipulate gender norms in lazy images reverting to stereotypes. A narrative runs throughout her images – the painting of red nails, stiletto shoes on fire, grease-covered motor parts, demolishing a domestic interior – creating an alternative account, separate from the male-dominated mainstream media of the time.

Framed photograph showing multiple images of woman painting nails red

Alexis Hunter, Approach to Fear II : Change Decisive Action, 1976

(Image credit: Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome. Copyright The Estate of the Artist)

In this prescient skewering of an instantaneous visual language, Hunter’s work foreshadowed the digital revolution that followed her death in 2014. ‘The dominant image cultures of platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat demand we constantly absorb and negotiate short bursts of video and scroll through thousands of images,’ Hoare adds. ‘The space of attention for media today is as short as the ten seconds that Alexis perceived her photo narratives unfolding across – probably even shorter. Alexis’ practice shows that it is entirely possible to hijack this space, to use these formats to disrupt flows of images that are deployed to shape our opinions, control our body image, articulate gender relations, and mould us as endlessly desiring consumers.

Framed photograph of nude woman photographing own reflection

Alexis Hunter, Self-Portrait, 1977/2010

(Image credit: Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome. Copyright The Estate of the Artist)

‘We live in a time that is much more intersectional in its engagement with gender, race, sexuality, disability. The second-wave feminist movement that Hunter was part of was limited in regards to these intersectionalities. Nonetheless, her merging of the personal with the political, through a spirit of bold experimentation and storytelling (at a time when photographic printers would refuse to print her images because she was a woman, and male exhibition staff refused to hang them because they deemed them offensive) makes her work continually engaging and relevant for women today, especially in cultural fields which remain dominated by men.’

'Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds' is on until 30 March 2024 at Richard Saltoun


Framed artworks on gallery wall in Alexis Hunter exhibition

‘Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds’, curated by Natasha Hoare, installation view at Richard Saltoun Gallery London, 2024

(Image credit: Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome. Copyright The Estate of the Artist)

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.