November 19, 2007

Saltz asks: What's MoMA's problem with women?

In New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz asks why there isn't more women's work hanging in MoMA's recently reshuffled permanent collection. "Not to sound like a broken record, but it has become bitterly clear that MoMA’s stubborn unwillingness to integrate more women into these galleries is not only a failure of the imagination and a moral emergency; it amounts to apartheid. Even the Met has integrated women into its twentieth-century wing, hanging four Florine Stettheimer paintings and a room of ten Georgia O’Keeffes.

"Obviously, MoMA can’t invent modern masters and new Cubists. By my count, only about one percent of all the art up to 1970 in MoMA’s Painting and Sculpture Collection is by women. The people who run this institution are earnestly trying to do the right thing; 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. Or just take Alice Neel, a kind of American antihero (auntie-hero?) who painted in seclusion for nearly her whole life while raising children on her own in Spanish Harlem, and who arrived at an original figurative style that is simultaneously brooding, bizarre, and Pop-ish. She’s one of the better painters of the mixed emotions of motherhood, and maybe the best painter of pregnant women who ever lived. Or MoMA could explore the work of Hilma af Klint, the Swede who fashioned mystic-looking alchemical diagrams and who arrived at pure abstraction more than five years before the great Kasimir Malevich. Even Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe are missing. There’s no Mary Cassatt. I could list dozens more.

"If the museum doesn’t own work by all of these artists, it needs to go shopping. For the hand-wringers who imagine this would trash the canon, I’ll note that cramming in 50 more paintings by women would still keep their presence below 16 percent. Of course, if MoMA removed some warhorses like Dine, Gottlieb, and Kitaj at the same time, things could get really interesting." Read more.

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