The following is a response to Maura Reilly’s article “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes” about the current statistics of Women in the Art World. Our coverage begins with our Editor’s Letter.
Several years ago I was on a panel at the home of a collector couple. They had a garden where they served food to a crowd of art-world people. It was all relaxed and nonhierarchical; the hosts sat in a corner and seemed to be having a good time. After the panel, a woman in the audience had a question. She was the director of the art gallery at a small college and wanted to do an all-women show, but there was protest about it and she didn’t know if it was a worthy thing to do. At that moment, our hostess leapt onto the stage and began to talk about how she and her husband had amassed a large and important collection without ever considering the sex of the artists. They chose out of love of the work, and for the artists’ achievements and critical importance. The artists’ sex was irrelevant and should never be considered. It was demeaning to artists to consider such things. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I interrupted. “Wow! You certainly got all worked up by that question. Before this you were minding your own business. When this single question got you so worked up, you jumped into the discussion to tell us what pure art lovers you and your husband are. Why did this simple question freak you out so much?”
I turned to the woman who had asked the question, and said, “We have been having all-women shows for some time. Some of them are good. Some aren’t as good. Probably some suck. But by and large, they are interesting and necessary. Since it seems like a big deal to your colleagues, your college is probably a small one off the beaten track. I’ll bet you have a number of good, serious artists working quietly in your area. I’m sure you have some at your school. I’m sure some of your faculty fit the bill. If you think a show of women artists would generate interest and discourse, perhaps political awareness, go for it. It’s a great idea. It will at the very least allow artists not used to public attention to see their work in a larger context and learn what other people like them are doing, to perhaps even discover what, if any, similarities there are among the women. You might discover one or two really powerful artists. Just remember, don’t stick only to your school. Track down artists, young and old, who live and work in your area. Maybe some of them will learn more about their work and their lives. Maybe they’ll get together with other artists and do other shows.” I ended by congratulating her and wishing her luck. People started filing out. Our hostess looked shocked and suddenly seemed bedraggled. It occurred to me that she had probably planned a short farewell speech. I cheerfully went into the next room and joined the other guests devouring her shrimps and lobsters.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 48.