Women artists erased by history find a place in museums

Women artists erased by history find a place in museums

How many women are forgotten in each exhibition dedicated to Mexican Frida Kahlo or French Louise Bourgeois? “We have to put an end to this refrain that they are equally represented today,” says American historian Maura Reilly of ArtNews, a private magazine.

“87% of the works in the 18 major museums of the USA were made by men, 85% of them white”, Art historian Katy Hessel tells AFP, citing a 2019 study by the journal Public Library Science.

Katy Hessel, 28, just posted “The Story of Manless Art” (Art history without a man) is a work dedicated to female artists since the Renaissance.

“Currently, all museums pay attention to equivalence, exhibitions for women artists are increasing.“The Tate (in London) dedicates its annual program to women, but in reality they are underrepresented in the auction houses.”

As the Artprice 2022 report shows, although women under 40 are gaining in importance, “Records for historic sales at Christie’s or Sotheby’s are still mostly men,” he adds.

one percent

in the UK, Tate “has long been committed to improving the representation of women artists. “It’s in their programs and permanent collections,” Polly Staple, director of the “British Art” collection, told AFP.

In 2023, the Royal Academy of Art in London will present its entire field to a woman for the first time in its history: Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic.

“Reversing the masculine canons that dominate art history is a daunting task, but I think museums can meet the challenge.” Agreeing that there is “a lot of work to be done”, the British conservative adds.

In 2020, the Prado museum in Madrid tackled the issue with an exhibition on the female figure in art that elicits an “ideology”. and Carlos Navarro, the curator of this exhibition, explained to AFP that “state propaganda about the female figure” is a legacy of “historical misogyny”.

However, the initiative did not fix the representation of women in the museum. Only 335 (1%) of the 35,572 works of the institution belonged to women artists. And even more surprising, only 84 of them were available to the public, while the rest were in warehouses.

The odds don’t improve in the major Paris museums. Only 25 women are featured in the 3,600 paintings in the Louvre. The museum justified this figure “for the historical period from Antiquity to 1848” to AFP.

At the Musée d’Orsay, which in 2019 dedicated a comprehensive exhibition to the impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, The institution told AFP that it has only 76 works by women, versus 2,311 works by male authors.


Believing that “a fair history cannot be made without fair archives”, French art historian Camille Morineau founded the “Aware” association to gather information about women artists around the world.

As Katy Hessel recalls, using the Aware database, these artists, such as Italian Renaissance Artemisia Gentileschi, who will be the protagonist of a show in London in 2020, for the most part they were “known in life, but have been destroyed over the centuries.”

Others, such as the sculptor Camille Claudel, whose work had been overshadowed by Auguste Rodin for years, were relegated to the role of muse. “Imagining that a woman could invent something was long an anthropological taboo,” predicts Camille Morineau, questioned by AFP.

While curating at Center Pompidou in 2009, he made it his mission to end this taboo. It set out to showcase only female artists on two floors for two years and attracted more than 2 million visitors.

It was proof that there were “enough” women’s works in the museum’s reserves to tell the entire history of 20th and 21st century art. Katy Hessel tries to follow suit in her own way with a podcast that gives voice to the big female stars of contemporary art, some of whom come from Southern countries.

Because, as she points out, if women artists leave history aside, other cultures emerge, such as the Algerian Baya or Singaporean Georgette Chen. “They were never part of the story.”

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