Sexism in the ArtsIn 1998, there is something of what passes for sexual "equality" in the arts. There is an abundance of women in some of the arts, a predominance of men in others, and in yet others, something of an uneasy numerical equilibrium. At least we like to think that's the case. But given the fact that the art community is unabashedly liberal and not wont to stir up the dust of sexism or racial inequality within its ranks when there are much more virulent forces of both at work in some of the conservative quarters with which it routinely does battle, it is little wonder that there are few studies involving actual numbers in this area. If sexual or racial bias exists in the arts, so-called "political correctness" mandates that it be dealt with quietly or simply ignored, in hopes it will "go away".
Of course, it hasn't always been that way. In the late 1960s, in the midst of the Vietnam War, as the women's movement burst upon the world, militant feminists symbolically scaled the landmark female sculpture in the middle of New York harbour, cast off their bras, lit them afire, then hurled them in women's liberation at Lady Liberty's feet. The arts, ostensibly the most sympathetic segment of society to such a revolutionary protest, appeared to welcome the movement with open arms; even though behind the scenes, in Europe, the Far East, even within the SOHO lofts and the gallery walls of this country, men continued to dominate every aspect of the art world; at most paying lip service to women in the arts with token retrospectives of O'Keeffe, Frankenthaler, Nevelson, or Cassatt.
As late as 1981, a London exhibit called The New Spirit in Painting included no female artists. A year later, in Berlin the Zeitgeist Exhibition representing some forty artists included only one woman. In 1984, at the opening exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art's remodelled galleries, an international collection of over 160 artist showed the work of only 14 women. That same year, another New York exhibition of Expressionist artists had the work of only two female artists amongst the 22 males. In response, a group of female artist banned together to form the Guerrilla Girls. They protested with posters and full-page ads the injustice of relative price differences for the work by male as opposed to female artists. And before we comfort ourselves in thinking, that was then, this is now (pardon the pun), as recently as five years ago, a New York Times Magazine cover pictured the "art all-stars" of a noted New York art dealer. Of the eleven artists pictured, not one was female or of ethnic descent.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
14 June 1998