It’s commonly observed that if you ask someone to name ten famous female artists, they struggle to do so. Lately, we have seen a significant rise in all-female art exhibitions. Still, there have seen far more all-male shows, but they were not presented as such. Do, however, shows made to support the sisterhood inadvertently risk ghettoizing female artists? Do they relegate women to the second-rate, not good enough to take part in mixed-gender exhibitions? Or are all-women shows are a necessary correction, after centuries of art exhibitions that featured only men? Women weren’t even allowed to make art for a very long time. The feminist art movement sought to change this and to promote women’s art in the 1960s and throughout the 1970s. And in the 8os the Guerrilla Girls tried to change the patriarchy in the art world.
Recently we have seen shows like the Nasty Women Art Show at the Knockdown Center, NSFW: Female Gaze at New York’s Museum of Sex, Champagne Life at the Saatchi gallery, GRAB BACK: PES Feminist Incubator Space at the Project for Empty Space and Feminine Product at THE VOID 3125c gallery Los Angeles.
There are also all-female art fairs like the Other art fair and Women in Art Fair. The EVERY WOMAN BIENNIAL or Whitney Houston Biennial is an all-woman and women-identified art biennial in NY and LA.
Shows like this bring awareness and celebration of women artists. Dr. Annemarie Murland, an Australian artist and academic, decided to curate an exhibition that highlights the lack of representation of women in the Arts. ‘Crack Open the Canon’ is being organized by Mel McMillan, Director of Newcastle ArtSpace, poet and academic, as well as University of Newcastle Associate Professor Trisha Pender and her colleague, Keri Glastonbury.
There is more than one way to be a feminist, or as Caroline McHugh would say ‘a womanist’, in contemporary society. This analogy and a fierce belief in making ‘good art’ was the shared common thread that brought nineteen women artists together for the Reimagining the Canon exhibition. Shows like this are not devaluing or victimizing the artists but more embracing them. An exhibit of art made by women, rather than as a “female art exhibition.” It is about the work, and equal opportunities not about gender.
Dr. Murland says; “I wanted to create an exhibition that foregrounds the issue of gender inequality in visual art.” 51% of visual artists today are female, but only 5% of artwork in major museums is made by women. Just 25-35% of female artists are represented by a gallery. Men working in the arts earn on average $20,000 annually more than women.
“Why are women so often forgotten by art history?” Dr. Murland asks. “And what would the canon of art history look like if it was designed by female artists?”
Women deserve the same treatment as their male contemporaries. The work they make has no more to do with their gender than the work men make has to do theirs.
All women’s collectives like; Girls Only NYC, World Wide Women, Cleopatra’s, Balti Gurls, m-a-u-s-e-r, Boudry and Lorenz, SALOON, The Bunny Collective, The Coven, Go! Push Pops, Where We At, The Ardorous and Esbat were formed to support and encourage individual artists not to identify the members as a “woman artist.”
Thus we have to be careful that creating these spaces and opportunities for women resulting in exactly the opposite of its intention? Good art and how it is produced, perceived and received within the wider community and an individual approach to making, should provide the benchmark for partaking in an exhibition.
See also: Gender quotas at the Royal Academy
Reimagining the Canon October 23 – 17 November 2019, The University of Newcastle Art Gallery, University Drive, Callaghan NSW 2308 Official opening Saturday 26 October at 4 pm, opening address delivered by Virginia Cuppaidge