Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Art and Guerrillas

I am so happy that we finally have a place like the Florida Museum for Women Artists. I'm also ashamed to say that I had not heard of Dorothy Gillespie before this exhibit announcement. This is why we need more museums like this one. Why haven't I heard of her before? I haven't been living under a rock outside the art world. I've been to galleries and museums. I've read art magazines and spent many, many hours perusing the art sections of book stores. I've done my share of surfing. Yet.... I had no clue this artist has been out there producing art for most of her 90 years. Of course it could be that I just wasn't looking in the right places but why is it that the majority of art students in the colleges are female yet the majority of artists represented in the museums are male?

Well according to the Guerrilla Girls things have improved for women artists since the 80's but not so much at the higher levels of exhibition. Do you remember these feminist masked avengers in the art world? They're still around and doing their thing. Below is a segment from an early interview with the girls that I found on their website.

Q. How did the Guerrilla Girls start?

Kathe Kollwitz: In 1985, The Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibition titled An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. It was supposed to be an up-to-the minute summary of the most significant contemporary art in the world. Out of 169 artists, only 13 were women. All the artists were white, either from Europe or the US. That was bad enough, but the curator, Kynaston McShine, said any artist who wasn't in the show should rethink “his” career. And that really annoyed a lot of artists because obviously the guy was completely prejudiced. Women demonstrated in front of the museum with the usual placards and picket line. Some of us who attended were irritated that we didn't make any impression on passersby.

Meta Fuller: We began to ask ourselves some questions. Why did women and artists of color do better in the 1970's than in the 80's? Was there a backlash in the art world? Who was responsible? What could be done about it?

Q.What did you do?

Frida Kahlo: We decided to find out how bad it was. After about 5 minutes of research we found that it was worse than we thought: the most influential galleries and museums exhibited almost no women artists. When we showed the figures around, some said it was an issue of quality, not prejudice. Others admitted there was discrimination, but considered the situation hopeless. Everyone in positions of power curators, critics, collectors, the artists themselves passed the buck. The artists blamed the dealers, the dealers blamed the collectors, the collectors blamed the critics, and so on. We decided to embarrass each group by showing their records in public. Those were the first posters we put up in the streets of SoHo in New York .

Here's a piece of an interview that's more current.

So, are things ok for women in the art world now?

Things are better now than they ever have been for women and artists of color and we have helped effect that change. Right now there is decent representation of women and artists of color at the beginning and emerging levels of the art world. At the institutional level however, in museums, major collections and auctions sales, things are still pretty dismal for all but white guys. We believe that the economics of the art market is responsible for this. As long as art costs a lot of money and can be owned and controlled by individual collectors, it will represent the values of those people, not the larger art audience or the culture at large. We are still condemning the art world for its lack of ethics, tokenism and other bad behavior.

It's good to know that things are improving but apparently there's still a long way to go. For now we can keep on supporting not just FMWA but all museums that are including women in there line up of artists. I can't wait to see this show of Dorothy's work. Just the fact that she's 90 years old and still producing and exhibiting is amazingly inspirational. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Peace, and go look at art somewhere...

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