Baltimore bets on them


More than thirty years have passed since the Guerrilla Girls they shook the conscience of the art world with devastating statistics about the lack of works executed by women in museum collections (and reflections as if it is necessary to undress to enter them) but the changes are reluctant to arrive. The figures do not deceive: in spite of the supposed greater sensitization only 11% of the purchases and 14% of the exhibitions of the great museums of the United States during the last decade were of works of women, according to an investigation of Artnet.

"To rectify centuries of imbalance, you must do something radical," says Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art. "It is not enough to buy a painting by a black artist and hang it on the wall next to another by Mark Rothko", he has declared to the newspaper The Baltimore Sun, where he has announced his drastic decision to end the marginalization of women starting by rebalancing his own collection, specialized in American art after the nineteenth century: in 2020 he will buy only works executed by women.


"It is not enough to buy a painting by a black artist and hang it next to a Rothko"

Known by the acronym BMA, the pinacoteca of the American city (610,000 inhabitants) raised a real dust in the art world last year with his decision to part with seven works from his collection to make new acquisitions with which to correct gaps and increase the presence of underrepresented artists, especially women and blacks. The initiative expressly responded to the museum's commitment to “rewrite the artistic canon” after the Second World War, recognizing the value of artists that until now buyers and donors, critics and the art market, mostly white and male, in General had missed.

Like other institutions involved in similar projects, the BMA wants to be a more faithful reflection of society and, in particular, the community it serves. 64% of Baltimore's population is black and the city – in addition to having the highest homicide rate in the US – has developed a vibrant artistic scene that has illuminated important contemporary figures. Here he was born and has his study for example Amy Sherald, the painter chosen by Michelle Obama to perform her portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.


Of the 95,000 that make up his collection, specializing in American art after the 19th century, only 3,800 are the work of women

The results of the initiative are visible as soon as you enter the fabulous contemporary art wing from the museum, remodeled this spring. Among works by authors such as Andy Warhol, Kara Walker or Ellsworth Kelly, the exhibition Cada dia , open until January, enhances the creations of African Americans as David Hammons ( Traveling ) and presents to the public its new acquisitions of Mark Bradford, author of the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale of 2017, Amy Sherald ( Places, rockets and the spaces in between ) or Lynette Tiadom-Boakye ( 8am Cadiz ), among others. In contemporary art, there is no lack of choice: 46% of US visual artists. they are women, according to data from the National Museum of Women in Arts in Washington. "The art world likes to think that we are reaching parity faster than it actually happens," says its director, Susan Fisher Sterling.

The sale of five Warhol works, Robert Rauschenberg and Franz Kline, considered expendable for having others of similar or superior quality, has allowed the Baltimore Museum of Art to obtain eight million dollars for now. So far, two million have been spent, the same figure that is expected to invest in purchases in 2020 in works exclusively for women. The measure is part of a broader long-term strategy.


The museum has sold several redundant works to buy others from blacks and women

The museum – which houses the prestigious Cone Collection of modern art, donated in 1949 by two sisters of the city, with 1,200 works by Matisse – has just announced the initiative
Vision 2020
, which will commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage in the US with 20 exhibitions dedicated to women. Or, more exactly, to artists who identify themselves as such, as there will be works by Zackary Druker, a transsexual creator from Los Angeles. The program includes exhibitions by Georgia O'Keeffe, Mickalene Thomas, Elizabeth Catlett and Candice Breitz, as well as a retrospective of the expressionist Joan Mitchell and local artists such as Grace Hartigan or Betty Cooke. “This is how you raise awareness and change the identity of an institution,” says Bedford.

In 1916, two years after opening its doors, the BMA acquired its first work from a woman (a canvas of Sarah Miriam Peale, the first professional painter in the US). It was a curiosity rather than a prelude, because its statistics in terms of gender balance are worse than average. Of the 95,000 works that make up his collection, only 3,800 are signed by a woman, 4% of the total (the average for large museums is 13%, according to Guerrilla Girls). “We hope that the decision will serve as a model for others and be a first step towards a better representation” of women in art, they trust the museum.

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