Intrigued by New
York Magazine art critic Jerry Salz's investigation and public condemnation of the percentage of women artists found in the Museum of Modern
Art's Permanent Collection, I decided to look to my own backyard and
see what I could find.
At the Boca
Raton Museum of Art - according to my own quick and dirty survey - we have 16% women artists represented in our Permanent
Collection galleries' Modern Art areas. That equals around 29 women artists to 175 men. I am somewhat happy that we have "out-suffraged"
the MOMA, (4 percent or 19 out of 383)
but 16 percent is still relatively low.
concede right at the outset that we grow our collection through donations and
we do not actively buy at auction on a regular basis by any means. Further, when speaking only of permanent
collection exhibits, we have dedicated an exhibition to women (The Other Half: Women Artists in the Collection
2005) and recently acquired on loan a very large Nancy Graves wall
sculpture that passionately announces its femininity in our Abstract Art
gallery. If you have not yet seen Canoptic
Legerdemain please visit our East Wing gallery on the second floor. The vast difference between it and the work by
the male abstract artists on display is amazing.
Still, more must be done to promote women in the arts. Mr. Salz puts it quite succinctly when he
says in his letter to Ann Temkin, Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the
To those who have
complained that installing the work of women will mean too much so-called "lesser" work will be on view. You can't develop what Oscar Wilde called "the
critical spirit" if you're mainly seeing the story as it has always been told.
Seeing only what's already been seen doesn't tell you how good or bad this work
may be. As André Malraux wrote, 'We can feel only by comparison. The Greek
genius is better understood by comparing a Greek statue to an Egyptian or
Asiatic one than by acquaintance with a hundred Greek statues'...The point is,
when it comes to being artists, women can be as bad as men. The problem is that
even now, decades after the onset of women's liberation, women aren't being
allowed to demonstrate this. I doubt that there's a conscious effort to keep
women from showing, yet the percentage of women exhibiting in museum PERMANENT
COLLECTIONS is grievously low.
We, of course,
- just as with the majority of Museums - seem to reflect this stagnant attitude
towards re-writing women into the history of art. As part of the Curatorial
department, all that I can say is that in my experience thus far (starting
October 2009) when installing new work into the permanent collection galleries,
there is very often discussion of actively searching out women artists to be
It makes me
proud to know that this is a subject that is considered more often than not. Of course, we cannot simply take down all the eminent
male artists on display and replace them with lesser-known women artists. Instead,
we use the gradual build approach. We actively insert more and more women artists
into our galleries in order to familiarize and teach the public about their
role in history while still supplying the community with the recognizable male
artists that they have come to appreciate over the years.
conversation about the male to female ratio of artists exhibited in museums has
been taking place for a long time. I hope it will continue to be a topic of
conversation and shape our understanding of the "canon" of art history for
years to come. This fluidity and opportunity for growth and changes in
understanding is what truly excites me about the study of art.