The women of pop art
Long sidelined, women artists slowly win recognition – and museum space.
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Museums now are in a do-over moment. Exhibitions displaying female artists abound. Exhibitions such as “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” (2007-08), the Brooklyn Museum’s “Global Feminisms” (2009), and “elles@centrepompidou” (through February 2011 in Paris) display female contributions. New York's Jewish Museum hails pioneers with "Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism" through Jan. 30, and the Museum of Modern Art features "Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography" through March 21.Skip to next paragraph
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MOMA's commitment to integrate its male-dominated galleries is much needed, since "MOMA historically has not focused on women artists," admits Connie Butler, chief curator of drawings. Since the museum's founding in 1929, only 5 percent of the 2,052 exhibitions have highlighted female artists. All that is changing. In the last five years, curators have sought to reclaim the missing women. Butler, who curated the “WACK!” show, calls the revisionism “transformative” saying, “We are more aware of the gaps in the collection in terms of women artists, we’re trying to target women artists in our acquisition program, and generally it’s raised awareness of having a greater representation of women in the galleries.”
Butler co-edited a comprehensive book, “Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art,” that covers both well-known and obscure figures, and the photography gallery has installed “Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography” through March 21, 2011.
Catherine Morris, curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, sees "a groundswell of interest in re-examining feminist contributions to the art of the second half of the 20th century." It seems it's catch-up time.
Hold onto your horsetail paintbrushes! The Guerrilla Girls, activist female artists who criticize sexism and racism in the art world, think the fight isn't over. A founder of the group who goes by the pseudonym Frida Kahlo says, "When you look at the ranks of artists who get one-person exhibitions in museums or have monographs or whose work resells for a lot of money, women and artists of color are rarely in those top ranks."
Ms. Kahlo faults the system, saying, "American art institutions are run by and for art collectors on their boards of trustees ... white males who buy art that appeals to them, art about their values, not the values of the general culture."
Art collecting is indeed dominated by male collectors, often newly super-rich moguls and hedge-funders who view art as an investment or as a trophy to advertise their wealth.
"Until the structure of the art market and how art gets bought, sold, and donated changes," Kahlo says, "we'll be fighting this market attempt to define what our visual art history is."
"That's a historical truth," Ms. Morris admits. "I hope it's changing."