It looks like I’m not the only one ranting then… After my last posting, on the latent sexism in the world (and the art world), I read about a similar missive from across the Atlantic. Jerry Saltz – he of the Village Voice and now New York magazine, had been having a go at MoMA on his Facebook pages. I read an account of it here, because I’m not a big fan of Facebook – but plenty of others are (Jerry has over 5,000 Facebook friends). Anyway, this is what he had to say:
“The Museum of Modern Art practices a form of gender-based apartheid. Of the 383 works currently installed on the 4th and 5th floors of the permanent collection, only 19 are by women; that’s 4%. There are 135 different artists installed on these floors; only nine of them are women; that’s 6%. MoMA is telling a story of modernism that only it believes. MoMA has declared itself a hostile witness. Why? What can be done?"
MoMA got back to him, to say that this would shortly be changed with (cue fanfare:) “the Modern Women’s Project, which will involve installations in all the collection galleries, a major publication, and a number of public programs.”
I can’t say that’s terribly thrilling – as there’s nothing like “special initiatives” for keeping something marginal. On the other hand, it’s hard to say what else can be done. If women have been written out of the narratives of art history by collecting institutions and critics, they have not been exerting an influence on students of art who look to what is on display and what is collected for inspiration (particularly in formative years), and so the marginalisation continues. And it will probably continue for some time. As I read the correspondance between Saltz, his Facebook Friends, and the PR Person from MoMA, I couldn’t help thinking – ah, something will be sorted now, a serious bloke has got involved. We’re all at it, or so it seems.
PS – I wrote a piece recently for the very wonderful magazine, Acne Paper, about Victorine Meurent, and a book about her: A Woman with no clothes on, by V R Main. Meurent was Manet’s model for Olympia and Dejeuner sur l’herbe. Art history, and Manet’s biographers, wrote her off as an alcoholic prostitute who slept with the artists she posed for and died young, probably from syphilis. Meurent actually lived to her 80s (so was unlikely to have been Manet’s lover, as he died young from syphilis himself), and was an artist in her own right. She even had work selected for, and exhibited in the Salon in the years that Manet was rejected. Now there’s some serious marginalisation for ya.