Erased by history, women artists gain ground in museums – Art and Theater – Culture

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“87% of the works housed in the 18 great museums of the United States were made by men, 85% white”, Art historian Katy Hessel tells AFP, citing a 2019 study by the Public Library of Science magazine.

Katy Hessel, 28, has just published “The Story of Art Without Men,” a work dedicated to female artists since the Renaissance.

“Currently, all museums pay attention to parity, the exhibitions dedicated to women artists are multiplying, the Tate (in London) dedicates its annual programming to womenbut in reality they are vastly underrepresented in auction houses,” an observer of the market and contemporary art fairs told AFP.

Although women under 40 are gaining in importance, as the Artprice 2022 report demonstrated, “in historical sales at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, the records are still held mostly by men,” Add.

On his side, the For the first time in its history, the Royal Academy of Art in London will offer its entire space to a woman in 2023: the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic.

“Reversing the masculine canons that dominate art history is a daunting task, but I think museums are up to the challenge,” adds the British curator, who acknowledges that “much work remains to be done.”

In 2020, the Prado museum in Madrid addressed the issue with an exhibition on the figure of women in artwhich reveals an “ideology” and “State propaganda on the female figure”, a legacy of “historical misogyny”, explained the curator of this exhibition, Carlos Navarro, to AFP.

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But the initiative did not fix the female representation in the museum. Of the 35,572 works of the institution, only 335 (1%) belonged to female artists. And more surprising, only 84 were on public display, while the rest were in warehouses. The proportion does not improve in the great Parisian museums.

In the Louvre, only 25 referenced women appear in 3,600 paintings. The museum justified this figure to AFP “for the historical period covered from Antiquity to 1848.”

At the Musée d’Orsay, which in 2019 dedicated a large exhibition to the impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, only 76 works are by women, against 2,311 by male authors, the institution told AFP.

As Katy Hessel, using the Aware database, recalls, these artists like the Italian Renaissance Artemisia Gentileschi, the subject of a London show in 2020, were mostly “known in life, but erased over the centuries.” “.

Others were reduced to the role of muses, such as the sculptor Camille Claudel, whose work was relegated for decades in the shadow of Auguste Rodin’s.

“Imagining that a woman could invent something was an anthropological taboo for a long time,” estimates Camille Morineau, questioned by AFP. She took it upon herself to end that taboo in 2009, when she was a curator at the Pompidou Center.

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For two years it set out to exhibit only female artists on two floors and attracted more than 2 million visitors. It was proof that there were “enough” works by women “in the museum’s reserves to tell the entire history of 20th and 21st century art.”

Katy Hessel tries to follow this work in her own way with a podcast that gives the floor to great female stars of contemporary art, some of whom come from the countries of the South. Because, as she points out, if women artists were left aside by history, those who emerged in other cultures such as Baya in Algeria or Georgette Chen in Singapore “never really formed part of history.”


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