Many of today's best artists are women, but recognition lags. Evidence found in art centers as well as smaller communities
IT'S becoming more and more apparent that women - especially women in their late 20s, 30s, and early 40s - are producing more than their share of exceptional art. Men may still far outnumber them in gallery and museum representation, and most art-world tastemakers may still not take them quite as seriously as they do male artists, but in terms of quality and range of work they're equal if not more than a little ahead.Skip to next paragraph
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For proof, we need only go wherever today's newer and better paintings, prints, sculptures, etc. are shown - whether in major art centers or smaller communities throughout the United States. As the judge in the recent highly competitive Mid-States Exhibition at Evansville, Ind., I was not a bit surprised to discover that the paintings I felt deserved the top awards were by young women, just as I'm no longer surprised that on my list of today's most promising younger artists there are a few more feminine names than masculine ones.
What does surprise me is that hardly any notice has been paid to this phenomenon. Serious recognition has come to a few women who are artists, it is true, but always at one or two notches below that accorded their male counterparts.
Jennifer Bartlett may be the subject of books, numerous laudatory articles, and major museum and gallery shows, and yet, oddly enough, her name is usually missing when lists of America's most ``significant'' living artists are compiled.
The same is true of Susan Rothenberg, Nancy Graves, Elizabeth Murray, Katherine Porter, Melissa Miller, and Alice Aycock, to name just a few. Only Judy Chicago has managed to receive the kind of notice that goes with top-level art-world fame these days, and most of that is due to her well-publicized confrontational tactics in challenging male supremacy in the marketplace and in the museums.
It is clear now that the art world has little difficulty in accepting a woman as a good artist. But significant? Well, that's another matter entirely.
Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) is a good case in point. Everyone speaks highly of her; her work hangs prominently in the world's most prestigious museums, and yet, if truth be told, she is still generally regarded as a ``camp follower,'' a talented disciple of the Impressionist masters, more deserving to be patted on the head for her cleverness than to be taken seriously.
Eva Hesse (1936-70), one of the most innovative and influential of recent artists, without whom much of today's sculpture would look quite different, has also not been given her due. Georgia O'Keeffe, on the other hand, is taken seriously - by the public, at least, if not always by art professionals. And Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson, Agnes Martin, Alice Neel, Beverly Pepper, Miriam Schapiro, and a handful of others have also entered the Big Time - although, one suspects, all too often on a strictly provisional basis.
There are many others, from Jane Freilicher and Joyce Treiman to Ida Kohlmeyer and Michelle Stuart, who deserve more recognition than they are already receiving. And when we get to the even younger generation, the imbalance between quality and serious critical acceptance becomes even more pronounced.