All posts in Women in Art

Art museums have positioned themselves as the keepers of artistic culture, and are generally thought to reflect the history and values of the people they represent. Unfortunately, because American museums exist in a kyriarchal society they are often governed by kyriarchal values. Societal prejudices imbue the museums with the power to determine “good” or “bad” artwork in line with the goals of the privileged. While the process of selecting artists for museum exhibition may seem impartial, it is as flawed as the society the museum represents. For artists who do not identify as cisgender, straight, white men, discrimination hinders career advancement and contributes to their exclusion from the canon. Ultimately, museums are influenced and reinforced by kyriarchal standards in a way that negatively affects the careers of artists outside of the mainstream.

Museums and galleries are driven by the desires of the wealthy and privileged, a group primarily dominated by white men. According to a 2012 study of High Net Worth Philanthropy by the Bank of America, “of the nearly $300 billion donated last year more than 70% was given by individuals, of which roughly half was given by the wealthiest 3% of American households”.[1]  To put that into context, approximately half—$150 billion—of all American charitable donations by individuals were given by just 3% of the wealthiest households. Because of these findings, organizations like the American Alliance of Museums recommend pursuing few wealthy donors as opposed to large numbers of poor or middle-class donors. In their annual report, TrendsWatch 2013, the organization recommends that museums “Consider a strategy of pursuing bigger gifts from fewer people”.[2]

While focusing on obtaining gifts from wealthier donors is one of the most effective ways for museums to quickly raise funds, it forces them to value the opinions of the wealthy over the lower and middle-classes. Furthermore, because of the extreme racial inequality present in the American upper class, the interests of white people are drastically overrepresented. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, “While all major racial/ethnic groups are represented in the wealthiest 1%, the group is more likely to be white and less likely to be black than the bottom 99%”.[3] More specifically, of the wealthiest 1% of Gallup’s poll, 78% of responders identified as Non-Hispanic white, only 2% as Non-Hispanic black, and 19% as Other nonwhite.[4] Other reports show the wealthiest 1% of the United States as being even whiter, with a 2012 New York Times article reporting the group as 82% white.[5]

Some museums are trendsetters, but most of the established fine art museums merely reaffirm existing narratives. These museums go with the “safe” choice of artists who have already been approved by mainstream critics, galleries, and collectors. Galleries themselves are biased toward artists who are white, identify as men, and have other characteristics valued by kyriarchal society. For example, although MFA programs include women artists at 65% to 75%, men somehow dominate the gallery system with approximately 70% representation.[6] It is not a matter of women deciding against pursuing an art career; this gender gap appears post-graduation. Women want to be artists but galleries do not want to represent them. This is at least partially a result of living in a society that values the contributions of men and white people over women and people of color.

One of the contributing factors to the erasure of women and people of color in the art world is the incorrect assumption that there are no artists from these groups creating work that is “good enough”, and that if there were, they would be known. Multiracial black artist Adrian Piper recorded a an example of this in a statement by 20th century art critic Rosalind Krauss, in which Krauss “doubts that there is any unrecognized African-American art of quality, because if it doesn’t bring itself to her attention, it probably doesn’t exist”.[7] Possibly the biggest issue with this belief is the idea that “good” art would make itself evident, and that black artists would receive recognition if only their work were “good enough”.

Adrian Piper, Race Card

Adrian Piper, Race Card

The question then raised is, who is in charge of determining what art is worthwhile? Museum workers are overwhelmingly white, with the upper-level, curatorial positions even more overwhelmingly so.[8] Eric Siegel, director of the New York Hall of Science, commented on an early version of the American Association of Museums’ (Now the American Alliance of Museums) 2010 trends paper, Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums, saying, “too many middle aged hypereducated white people are going to limit the degree to which museums incorporate other points of view”.[9]  As of 2010, 80% of museum studies majors were white, and the numbers do not appear to be improving quickly enough to match United States demographics.[10]

In another article, Piper compares the treatment she received when critics viewed her as a white artist or as a black artist. In one anecdote, a potential employer—who viewed Piper as white—offered her a tenure-track job in the university’s graduate department. Piper declined the position only to receive from him another offer two years later, for a less appealing, temporary visiting position teaching undergraduates. The difference was, this time the employer knew she was black. In fact, he condescendingly related to one of Piper’s current colleagues that the employer’s administration was pressuring him to integrate the department, implying this was the primary reason for the offer.[11]

Black artists are discouraged in many ways from promoting their work and from exhibiting in major galleries. Many people of color learn from an early age to be wary of opportunities for fear of being taken advantage of. Performance artist Coco Fusco wrote of an incident in which a prominent ethnographic filmmaker lured her under false pretenses to his home, where he stripped to his underwear, voiced wishes to see her naked, handed Fusco a basket while instructing her to gather berries and nuts, and then ripped her shirt when she was finally able to leave.[12] Fusco had pursued this opportunity to work in film with a prominent filmmaker, and was punished with the white filmmaker’s racist colonial fantasies. This incident may be an extreme example, but the same discouraging effect can be achieved by small, repetitive actions of racism or sexism. Women and people of color learn to be wary, and in this way miss out on opportunities. Of course, even when minority artists promote their work they face discriminatory selection processes from people who have been raised to believe in kyriarchal ideals.

Coco Fusco & Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit Madrid, 1992

Coco Fusco & Guillermo Gomez-Pena, performance of Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit Madrid, 1992

Artists who are not represented in museums are less likely to be included in art historical canon. Lacking museum support, artists are excluded from art history texts or have their work recast as “links” between more critically acclaimed white, male artists. By failing to fairly represent women and people of color in museum and gallery spaces we are not only hindering their careers at present, but also preventing them from taking their spot in history.

Art museums are the keepers of culture, but American culture is sexist, racist, and discriminatory in many ways. Artists are selected for museum exhibition because of kyriarchal factors that promote pandering to wealthy white men. The same factors affect how museums determine what work is “good” art and imbue these institutions with the power to make those decisions. Without correcting these inequalities, artists outside the mainstream of kyriarchal society will continue to suffer from lack of representation and from unfair treatment by the art world.

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Artist Micol Hebron’s current project, Gallery Tally, counts the gender ratios of art gallery rosters. This crowd-sourced projects has artists count the number of men and women represented by a gallery and create posters representing those numbers.

A poster by Melanie Pak for the Van Der Plas Gallery in NY. 93% men, 7% women.

A poster by Melanie Pak for the Van Der Plas Gallery in NY. 93% men, 7% women.

MFA programs are 65% to 75% women, but the current gallery system is 70% men. Actual quotes from gallerists asked by Hebron about gender ratios in their galleries:

  • “Women do not have the same drive or passion for their art as men do — they are not willing to die for their passions.”
  • “Women are not as prominent in the art world because they become mothers.”
  • “We don’t have that many women artists, but we do have a gay artist — does that count?”

And some bonus Facebook comments from the Hyperallergic interview (If you couldn’t guess, these are both older, white men):

SadWhiteBoy1 SadWhiteBoy2

It’s sad to see so many people who, even when confronted with cold, hard facts, are completely unable to see things from another point of view. Bonus points to these guys for pulling out the good old “But maybe men are just better!” argument, as well as shoehorning in a complaint about political correctness and that oh so scary feminist agenda. Watch out men! Feminists are everywhere and they’re coming for youuuuuuuu!

Read an interview with Hebron at Hyperallergic and check out the Gallery Tally on tumblr! Get out there and count some rosters, make some posters, and point out the ridiculously unfair gender representations in today’s gallery market. As for me? I have some gallery rosters to take a look at…

Museums have long been seen as the keepers of culture. They are romanticized, seen as places for learning and spiritual quests, and are considered to represent a national identity. However, museums are often not just a reflection of culture, but one of the many authorities that interpret and construct cultural narratives. These narratives are not necessarily all-encompassing or truthful. Museums are susceptible to the same cultural influences as their communities, and often present imperfect, sexist, racist, and homophobic interpretations of history. Art museums exist as a highly gendered space, and this is reflected in their architecture, included artists, and subject matter of the exhibited artwork.

Art museum exteriors have long been coded as highly masculine. This begins with who is allowed to design the museum, as men dominate the world of museum architecture. Most creators of the enormous, contemporary facades trendy with today’s museums are white men. Even in architecture firms including women partners and employees, the firm is presented as male. Because of this, the public facades of art museums are, for the most part, created by men. Additionally, because museums often use monumental scale to signify power, tradition, and status, they are perceived as masculine due to the conflation of monumental scale with masculinity.[1]

Zaha Hadid, Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, 2003

Zaha Hadid, one of the few women architects well-known in the field of museum architecture, Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, 2003

In the late 1800s the French bourgeois elites embraced the museum as a monument of their cities and of themselves. This resulted in museums becoming more monumental and much more lavish. Museum construction was directly tied to the appearance of those in power, which relates to contemporary ideas of power and monumental masculinity. One Marseille city councilor advocating for museum construction funds said, “the visitor going through the rooms, the gardens, the walks, must be able to say: This is truly the work of a great city!”[2] The elite wanted greatness, and they conflated greatness with monumental architecture referencing times of glory and past masters. Today’s standard art museum entrance still references the style developed as a result of these desires, featuring a grand entrance complete with ceremonial stairway as well as inscriptions of the names of artistic “geniuses,” always white men. Upon approaching the museum, a visitor is immediately influenced by the size and the presentation of great men in art.[3]

The interior space of museums allows the artwork to set the tone. Rooms upon rooms of white male artists makes it very clear: women and people of color do not create great art worthy of the museum. The Guerrilla Girls’ infamous 1989 poster featuring a reclining female nude wearing an aggressive-looking gorilla mask asks, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female”.[4] This leads directly into the next gendered issue of art museum collections; nearly all of the figures depicted are women.

Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?

Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?

Why are women always the ones being looked at? This question is addressed in Laura Mulvey’s influential article, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in which Mulvey argues that films are constructed with the idea of the viewer as male. Because of this, women are consistently depicted as objects for the male gaze.[5]

The male gaze has a strong presence in art museums. If all of the creators are men, and the depicted figures are women, we are more likely to identify with the creator of the work who existed and worked in the same space we now occupy as viewers. According to Carol Duncan in her article, “The MoMA’s Hot Mamas”, “The collection’s recurrent images of sexualized female bodies actively masculinize the museum as a social environment. Silently and surreptitiously, they specify the museum’s ritual of spiritual quest as a male quest.”[6] By including primarily male artists and showing mainly female nudes, art museums are placing museum visitors in the role of masculine creator and viewer. This enforces the initial reading of the museum exterior as a masculine space by showing the interior as a space for the male gaze.

Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950-52, oil on canvas, 6' 3 7/8" x 58"

Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950-52, oil on canvas, 6′ 3 7/8″ x 58″

An ideal example of how museums indicate gender roles of viewer and those being viewed is found in the placement of Willem De Kooning’s Woman I in the MoMA’s Modern Art collection. Woman I is a male-created painting of a woman. With violent and suggestive brushstrokes, this painting is seen as “vulgar, sexual, and dangerous.”[7] With references to powerlessness stemming from the mother and even vagina dentata, Woman I makes it clear that great Modern Art is born from building up and tearing down women. The act of painting, of depicting a person using your own point of view, is an act of power. Visitors learn from the work they view who has power and who does not. By placing Woman I at the entrance of the Modern Art rooms MoMA is informing the visitor that women are looked at while men are the creators and the ones who look.[8]

 

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If you’re looking for an interesting read check out this post on Bible Brisket about the history and depiction of Adam’s first wife, Lilith.

The author quotes one of my posts from a couple of years ago on the sexualization of Eve and the feminizing of the serpent in Christian art. If you liked this article, Bible Brisket’s write-up on Lilith would definitely be of interest.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Fall, detail of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Fall, detail of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512.

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll be looking at paintings by Dana Schutz:

Dana Schutz, Reclining Nude, 2002, oil on canvas, 48"x66"

Dana Schutz, Reclining Nude, 2002, oil on canvas, 48″x66″

Dana Schutz, Frank in the Desert, 2002, oil on canvas, 183x137cm

Dana Schutz, Frank in the Desert, 2002, oil on canvas, 183x137cm

Dana Schutz, Men's Retreat, oil on canvas, 96"x120"

Dana Schutz, Men’s Retreat, oil on canvas, 96″x120″

Dana Schutz, Face Eater, oil on canvas, 18"x23"

Dana Schutz, Face Eater, oil on canvas, 18″x23″

Dana Schutz is a highly influential contemporary figurative painter. She creates interesting characters and situations; for example, the first two images here (Reclining Nude and Frank in the Desert) depict an imaginary character named Frank. In this scenario, Schutz is the last painter in the world and Frank the last subject. He is trapped on a desert island and painted again and again. The Frank From Observation paintings are interesting, in that he is repeatedly reinvented as a wild man, a fantasy for women, or one of any number of unusual professions. Schutz and Frank react to one another. Even though he is imaginary he is full of personality and understands the situation. Frank may rebel and be sunburnt or even killed in retaliation. The artist doesn’t mourn him though; Frank always comes back to life.

Like the Frank series, Schutz’s Self-Eaters are cyclical. They die and are reborn and they constantly consume themselves. Schutz considered this series to have a looser narrative and these works spin off in a number of directions. Schutz’s work thrives with themes of destruction and dismemberment, especially through her use of bright colors and whimsical humor.

See more of Shutz’s work here and read a great interview with the artist here. Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Paintings by Holly Coulis.

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll take a look at the paintings of Holly Coulis:

Holly Coulis, Holidays, 2008, oil on canvas, 29"x26"

Holly Coulis, Holidays, 2008, oil on linen, 29″x26″

Holly Coulis, Grouse, 2008, oil on linen, 54"x48"

Holly Coulis, Grouse, 2008, oil on linen, 54″x48″

Holly Coulis, Carnation and Bird, 2013, oil on linen, 40"x32"

Holly Coulis, Carnation and Bird, 2013, oil on linen, 40″x32″

Holly Coulis, Blue Skies, 2008, oil on linen, 36"x30"

Holly Coulis, Blue Skies, 2008, oil on linen, 36″x30″

These paintings are part of Coulis’s Men series. Her images depict an invented cast of average albeit strange men living their lives. Men sit still while birds perch on their shoulders, relax, or enjoy the landscape (sometimes in the nude!) This causes us to create mythologies about who they are.

Because Coulis is a woman, we view her work in the context of a history in which men typically painted women. According to the Cherry and Martin gallery, “As a female artist picturing men, Coulis’ paintings are not political per se; rather they present a shift in the focus from what has come to be an expected relationship.  Coulis uses this investigation to imagine her subject’s inner life, exploring the intersection of masculinity and vulnerability.  In doing so, she engages in a dialogue with such painters as David Hockney, Alice Neel and Sylvia Sleigh, all of whom used portraiture as a way of investigating intimacy, subjecthood and self-identity.”

Coulis’s paintings use bright, bold colors and simple geometric forms. Her work is similar to Alex Katz or David Hockney in depicting still figures and using flattened blocks of color.

See more of Coulis’s work here. Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Paintings by Nina Chanel Abney.

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll be looking at the work of painter Nina Chanel Abney:

Nina Chanel Abney, King of Sorrow, 2010, acrylic on canvas

Nina Chanel Abney, King of Sorrow, 2010, acrylic on canvas

Nina Chanel Abney, The Boardroom, acrylic on canvas, diptych, 77"x153.5" (overall)

Nina Chanel Abney, The Boardroom, acrylic on canvas, diptych, 77″x153.5″ (overall)

Nina Chanel Abney, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas

Nina Chanel Abney, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas

Figures in Abney’s paintings are often ambiguous in terms of gender and race. While they at first appear to be male with emphasized mustaches and jock straps that leave little to the imagination, you’ll notice that many have highlighted breasts or other feminine features.

Her works often feature colorful, distorted celebrities in surprising situations (or political figures who are treated as celebrities). Of her subject matter Abney says, “I’m fascinated by how celebrity news has become not more interesting, but more important than politics. I like to infuse that with race issues.” There are strong narratives throughout her paintings, but they’re disjointed. It’s usually difficult to understand what exactly is going on.

Abney’s figurative work is personally very inspiring. The way she creates abstracted stories that make the viewer think harder about what they’re seeing appeals to me, and the themes of gender, race, and celebrity are highly relevant to the world today.

You can take a look at more of Abney’s work here.

Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Paintings by Meghan Howland.

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll take a look at the beautiful oil paintings of Meghan Howland:

Meghan Howland, Title Unknown, 2011, oil on canvas

Meghan Howland, Title Unknown, 2011, oil on canvas

Meghan Howland, Title Unknown, 2011, oil on canvas

Meghan Howland, Title Unknown, 2011, oil on canvas

Meghan Howland, Vapors, 2011, oil on canvas

Meghan Howland, Vapors, 2011, oil on canvas

Meghan Howland’s works are full of delicate figures covered in flowers, birds, and pearls. Her work embraces the decorative and the feminine yet casts an almost somber mood over beautiful people and objects. Both women and men are depicted, although so far only those who are young, thin, and white. These paintings are very dreamlike, and leave a lot to the viewer’s imagination.

I would highly recommend looking at the rest of her work here. They are very captivating paintings.

Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Collage by Anya Lsk.

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll take a look at collage by Anya Lsk:

Anya Lsk, Untitled, 2013, collage

Anya Lsk, Untitled, 2013, collage

Anya Lsk, Untitled, 2012, collage

Anya Lsk, Untitled, 2012, collage

Russian artist Anya Lsk’s collages beautifully connect the nude male form with other images. Her first piece references Laocoön and His Sons, an ancient Roman marble sculpture that depicts the plight of Trojan priest Laocoön. Poseidon sent sea serpents to strangle the priest and his sons in order to prevent Laocoön from exposing the Trojan horse ruse. This sculpture is a very influential piece. Following its discovery in the Renaissance Italian sculptors artists as renowned as Michelangelo and Titian created works referencing the piece. You can read more about the history of Laocoön and His Sons here.

Laocoön and His Sons, c. 25 BC, marble

Laocoön and His Sons, c. 25 BC, marble

The sculpture was considered a beautiful piece that masterfully portrayed the male figure. Lsk continues this tradition by incorporating Laocoön into a photograph of two partially nude men wrestling. The photograph and the sculpture both display the male form in tense, sensual poses.

You can see more of Anya Lsk’s collages (and photographs) here.

Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Jen Mann’s Cotton Candy and Sway.

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week’s works are Cotton Candy and Sway by Jen Mann:

Jenn Mann, Cotton Candy, 2013, 48"x46", oil on canvas

Jenn Mann, Cotton Candy, 2013, 48″x46″, oil on canvas

Jenn Mann, Sway, 2013, 50"x50", oil on canvas

Jenn Mann, Sway, 2013, 50″x50″, oil on canvas

I first saw Mann’s work on tumblr, where her brightly colored, bubblegum-like portraits are incredibly popular. Her paintings are beautiful, with an intriguing use of monotone figures against contrasting backgrounds. She limits herself to simply composed portraits with very clean, crisp lines and naturalistically rendered features. These portraits are from her Strange Beauties series and are inspired by the circus, the innocence of childhood, and dreams.

You can see more of Jen Mann’s work here or take a look at her somewhat different Fera series here.

Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Amy Sherald’s The Rabbit in the HatPony Boy, and High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain’t No Cotton Pickin’ Negroes.