The Resurgence of Women-Only Art Shows

Posted by: Roy Wilbur

The following is an excerpt from Hilarie M. Sheetsmarch’s article that appeared in The New York Times, March 29, 2016

At the peak of her career in 1976, Georgia O’Keeffe refused to lend her work to a pivotal exhibition in Los Angeles, “Women Artists: 1550 to 1950.” It was one of a wave of all-female shows — some 150 — that decade to spotlight artists largely ignored by major museums and galleries. But O’Keeffe, the most famous female artist of her day, saw herself in a different category — “one of the best painters,” period.

The feminist art historian Linda Nochlin borrowed an O’Keeffe painting elsewhere and put her in the show anyway. Yet despite these exhibitions, neither O’Keeffe nor any other woman would break into “Janson’s History of Art,” the leading textbook, until 1987, and equality remained elusive.

While some artists are ambivalent about being viewed through the lens of gender, the all-women’s group show, which fell out of favor in the ’80s and ’90s, is flourishing again. At least a dozen galleries and museums are featuring women-themed surveys, a surge curators and gallerists say is shining a light on neglected artists, resuscitating some careers and raising the commercial potential of others.

These shows are “playing catch-up after centuries of women’s marginality and invisibility,” said the artist Barbara Kruger, who has both declined and agreed to participate in all-women shows. Galleries looking for fresh names to promote and sell have more than altruism in mind: They are sensing opportunity “to cultivate a new market,” Ms. Kruger said.

The most prominent spring show is “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women” at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the inaugural exhibition of the gallery’s new Los Angeles branch. It joins an all-women lineup at the Saatchi Gallery in London and at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, where Mera Rubell, its co-founder, has seen a 20 percent spike in attendance over last year and enthusiasm from families bringing their daughters to see the show, “No Man’s Land.”

On the horizon are women-only group shows at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Denver Art Museum, and corporate sponsors are starting to get into the act: The New Museum in New York was approached by the DKNY fashion house to underwrite its spring season, devoted to five solo exhibitions by women artists.

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Image: Georgia O’Keeffe, hands, 1918. Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, courtesy of Wikipedia

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