“Well, first—that term, ‘women artists.’ I was talking to Joan Mitchell at a party about ten years ago when a man came up to us and said, ‘What do you women artists think…’ Joan grabbed my arm and said, ‘Elaine, let’s get the hell out of here.’”
—Elaine de Kooning in ARTnews, January 1971
In late April, at the Public Art Fund gala in New York, I was talking with an art dealer in her mid-30s, and mentioned that ARTnews was working on an issue devoted to women artists as well as to women working in the art world. Her smile evaporated and she heaved a sigh. “Would you do a men issue?” she asked me.
It wasn’t the first time I had doubts about putting this issue together. In March, when guest contributing editor Maura Reilly, the founding curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and I were already hard at work on it, along with ARTnews co-executive editor Barbara MacAdam, I attended an Intelligence Squared debate in Hong Kong where the motion was “The Art World is a Boys’ Club.” The motion was defeated: by a narrow margin, the audience decided that the art world today is not a boys’ club. Case closed! And yet, walking out of the auditorium, I couldn’t help recalling the conversation I’d had with an art dealer in a taxi the previous day. He did a lot of business in the Chinese art world, and he said that when some collectors there get wind that a woman artist is starting a family, they stop buying the work in anticipation of a drop in that artist’s market. Today’s art world may not necessarily be a boys’ club—there is, after all, a large number of estimable and empowered women working in its upper echelons, as artists, in museums, and as art dealers and critics—but that dealer’s anecdote, a sad reminder of all the tired, old “mommy track” clichés, is one clear indication that there is still work to be done.
ARTnews has a long history of engagement with women’s status in the art world, as demonstrated by the covers reproduced here. That tradition began in 1971, when the magazine published Linda Nochlin’s landmark essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” an examination of the institutional structures that historically made it nearly impossible for women artists to gain a foothold. In that issue, eight artists, including Elaine de Kooning and Louise Nevelson, responded to Nochlin’s question. (“Silly questions deserve long answers; followed by eight replies,” as the magazine put it, rather cheekily.) For the present issue, we have as our centerpiece an essay by Reilly, a gathering of current statistics on women’s representation in the art world.
Yes, as one of the debaters in Hong Kong put it, “debating numbers is like debating climate change”—like science, they are irrefutable—but we still wanted to hear from artists of different generations: Do these numbers tell the whole story? What has your experience been? And what can be done? Two of our artist-contributors—Eleanor Antin and Lynda Benglis—appeared in our 1971 issue. Also part of the package are essays by Amelia Jones, Alison M. Gingeras, and Ruba Katrib, and an interview with Linda Nochlin, on the occasion of the publication of the Reilly-edited volume Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, out this month.
As the artist Mary Miss, then 36, said in ARTnews in January 1980, “[E]ach generation will have to press for change to improve the status quo.” She was right then, and she is right now. I look forward to the day when, as young artist Jamian Juliano-Villani puts it, “there will be more women in this.” At that time, you have my word, we will do a men issue.
SARAH DOUGLAS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF