Women Artists at the MoMa

Jerry Saltz has published an interesting article over at the New York Magazine. Saltz asks where are all the women? (at the MoMa)

“MoMA is our fountain of youth, our Garden of Eden, our Promised Land. But all these things will not last much longer if this institution continues excluding women from the display of its permanent collection of painting and sculpture from 1879 to 1969..”

and continues with..

“I’m not declaring them sexist bigots. Nor am I a quota queen, advocating that women be allotted their 51 percent: Art history isn’t about fairness. Nevertheless—and this is a vital point—MoMA’s master narrative would not be disrupted if more women were placed on view. In fact, that narrative would come to life in ways it never has before, ways that would be revitalizing, even revolutionary. Ask yourself if hanging any of the following artists would really ruin the narrative espoused by the museum: Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Dorthea Rockburne, Yoko Ono, and Florine Stettheimer.” Read the full article at NY Mag here.

I think it would be political correctness gone mad if museums were forced to purchase art because the artist is female, a particular skin color, or any other categorization of person that has ever felt neglected at some point in time. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t think more women artists should be bought by museums, but they definitely shouldn’t be bought just because they are women.

Art should be bought on merit, not the sex of the artist. The sex of the artist is the last thing on my mind when I’m looking at good art.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. “Good” art is determined by white or Western men.

    In order to even begin to remove that bias, women and non-whites have to be given the opportunity for greatness.

    One way to do that is to promote them in the same cultural institutions that define greatness. Let history be the judge of what is truly great, but also let the institutions use their power to give every artist independent of sex or race the same chance.

    Recommended readings: Simone de Beauvoir, Linda Nochlin.

  2. Any bias regarding the sex of an artist only shows those people showing such bias to have no idea what art is. It is rather like thinking of God as male or female. Does the creative energy behind art or the universe have a sex? Even though it has to be expressed through a male or a female creature (well, in our dimension anyway!) it is the creativity we appreciate and that is indefinable. I am always wary of people who’s egos are boosted because of their creative talent as generally the reverse should be true and we stand in humble awe before the creativity we have managed to give expression to. Nice to be a good expression of it but we are created beings, not creators. I have found very few of the really top artists to be egotists and I cannot see how anyone who truly appreciates art can be sexist. This topic really shouldn’t even exist!

  3. That is where the problem lies, women are still not given merit. Pick up any history of western art and you would think there were no famous women artists in the past (1% make it into the history books) and you ask the average person and all they can muster is mary cassat, okeefe or kahlo perhaps. The pioneer, Fede Galizia, of the still life is barely mentioned anywhere.

    I am not of the mind that it is intentional or some vast sexist conspiracy but rather a continued belief due to lack of education (continually ignored in materials used for education in high schools, colleges and art schools) that women played little role in the arts or history.

  4. Or was it 4% mentioned despite significant roles women played in warfare, sciences, arts throughout history.

    It is kind of glaring that so many very significant artists (who happen to be women) are conspicuously missing from many museum collections. One wonders why?

  5. Thank you for your art Blog, which I read everyday.

    You said: “Art should be bought on merit, not the sex of the artist”
    But at the moment it is not. Art is not bought on merit [especially at MOMA].

    Male art sales better and is more charismatic for the US public, therefore MOMA is more interested in [white] Male artists than women.

    If they exhibit women art it is often introduced as “feminism art” or “all women show”. They obviously find it hard to level male and women artists.

    But you are right when you think that male or female preference have no place in creativity and art. But at the end of the day museum and galleries make the choice for you. It is the art industry itself that creates this preference instead of educating the public.

    So maybe we, collectors, art lovers and artists should start educating the museums and the galleries to equality and fair representation…

    Watch: http://www.guerrillagirls.com/posters/feministsymposium.shtml

  6. Tut, tut. What a politically incorrect post. Reminds me of a Metropolitan police mascot, which has been replaced by a female Asian (that’s Indian subcontinent to Brits) mascot. Pink PCSO John is out and brown PCSO Sunita is in.
    Just to stir it up a bit more, I think anyone who wants to exhibit in MOMA needs their bumps felt – male or female bumps -, because MOMA is the US equivalent of Tate Modern and stocks similar rubbish.

  7. I think ‘Anon’ is spot on here. If you want to view art that is based on merit and not viewed through a western male filter (or any other filter you can think of); you have to have institutions that promote diverse points of view.

    To do this you need to look at whether the people who work in museums, galleries, universities etc represent the gender/ethnic mix of the society they are in.

    Usually there are less women in higher positions in universities for example (and yes this is a complex issue, based on more than one factor).

    Most large museums have some kind programme to attempt to get varied artwork and varied audiences into their buildings.

    But the temptation is to put on a show that will get the most people through the door, rather than take a risk on some good but proviously unseen work.. e.g.how many Monet shows are they going to have at Tate Britain???.

    Art institutions/art historians should remember they’re only alienating half their audience if the write women out of history- perhaps we can remove 50% of their funding!!!

  8. The artist Howardena Pindell has numerous essays with statistics on the ethnic and gender bias of museums and galleries. One essay, “Art World Racism” presents statistics from NY galleries and museums from around 1980-88, provided BY the institutions themselves and they reveal the obvious prejudice of selection. The racism our everyday life is coated with is the same racism the business of art is coated with. Why wouldn’t it be? The exclusionary labels have simply changed. The power structure and associated flunkies have simply learned new terms for old practices. They put new “slaves” like Kara Walker on parade to show everyone how we should act. Same thing, different day for the business of art.

  9. Sorry, but I beg to differ with you on the basis of the quality of the artists excluded. Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Dorothea Rockburne, Yoko Ono, and Florine Stettheimer? You can quarrel with the list, but anybody who doesn’t think Hepworth, Mitchell, or Bourgeois belong in any museum of modern art is just plain ignorant. Or had better make an awfully good case why they didn’t deserve to make the cut.

    I’m male, incidentally, and my painfully evident heterosexuality may have something to do with my preference for women artists, though I’ve never been sexually attracted to any of the artists cited.

  10. Just a comment on the semantics. Original Post says that the museum should not buy based on gender, but I think that is besides the point. Do you really think MoMA doesn’t have any Nevelson, Bourgouis, or Mitchell?
    I think that MoMA owns works by these artists, but neglects to hang them or the public because, as the author suggests, it doesn’t fit the narrative MoMA ‘buys’ into.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Art XX
    Women in The Arts Magazine/ Summer 2008

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