WorldWomen artists: ignored by museums, celebrated on networks

Women artists: ignored by museums, celebrated on networks


1987 poster for a Guerrilla Girls exhibition at The Clocktower (New York).Guerrilla Girls

Like the posters hung in 1968 by the Guerrilla Girls denouncing the scant female representation in New York museums, the posts showing the works of Plautilla Nelli, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Marianne von Werefkin are arrows against the hegemonic canon. Women found on social media the exhibition hall that they were often denied in museums, galleries and schools.

This in relation to the current art panorama, where the scarce female presence is evident. Taking distances into account, also in the context of historical perspective, institutions have barely begun to walk down this path. The National Gallery in London exhibited for the first time in 2020 a Baroque artist, Artemisia Gentileschi. And since the first temporary exhibition dedicated to a painter took place in 2016 (the Flemish Clara Peeters, from the beginning of the 17th century), the Prado de Madrid has received only three others. The percentage of female presence in the gallery is 0.8%. Meanwhile, people like Concha Mayordomo and Mai Der and collectives like MAV and Visionary Women have been publicizing the work and lives of artists who remained in the shadows for years.

British historian Katy Hessel says she created the Instagram profile The Great Women Artists [As Grandes Artistas Mulheres] “out of sheer necessity”, when, being a student of Fine Arts, she realized that she was unable to name more than five artists. Eight years later, with more than 230,000 followers, she was nominated by forbes as one of the most influential people of culture in Europe. “My goal is to reach the crowds. Museums are making progress, but there is still a long way to go, especially in the work of women before 1950″, she says over the phone. The proliferation of these initiatives on networks is due to their easy access and immediacy, their visual character and the renewed interest in feminism on the internet. Sociologist Amparo Luengo sums it up: “Networks favor people who cannot find space elsewhere”. For the historian specializing in genre Eugenia Tenenbaum, “Instagram is the democratization of knowledge and power that does not happen within institutions”.

According to the latest Report on the application of the Spanish Equality Law, only 26% of the works exhibited in 2019 at Arco (International Contemporary Art Fair in Madrid) were by women, 6% of them by Spanish artists. In comparison, in 2018 women registered minimally more artistic works in the Property Registry than men (50.1%). Today they represent only 21% in Guggenheim and 14% in Reina Sofia, according to museum data. For the deputy director of Centro Dos de Mayo, Tania Pardo, there is still “this conception of genius locked in the workshop, in which it seems that we have no place. But the woman has always been there”.

Networks are not built solely as a parallel world. They also arouse interest in conventional spaces. Pardo says that the networks are for the center programmers “a window to discover new artists”. CA2M has just acquired Diana Larrea’s research, who for two years posted an artist a day on her Facebook profile. Now transformed into a work of art, Such a day as today brings together the work of 625 women.

Historians, curators and creators work at the margins to drive change in museum narrative and university curricula. Tenenbaum, who goes to the networks because he maintains that within institutions, the speeches he sees most connected with “are not welcome”, is clear: “If you’re not going to talk about it, then I’ll need to do it”.

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