Gallerists and Guerillas: Women In The Art World

I’ve heard more than my fair share of raunchy, raucous, and downright filthy turns of phrase in our fair city. And yet, there’s one word that never ceases to set teeth on edge: “feminism.” Now, I’m not interested in burning my bras at Peres Projects or ousting generations of men’s masterpieces from The Neues Museum; however, I would like to see an honest survey of where we as women stand in the art world, especially here in my hometown.

After all, the history of art is littered with muses, mistresses, misogynists and the occasional woman who “makes it.” For every Tacita Dean and Angelika Watzl, thousands of talented visionaries languish unnoticed; and it all feels very unfair…but is it? Is it still? Is it really? Get ready to wash that mouth out with soap and let’s explore feminism’s effect on the Berlin art scene, beginning at the beginning.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad….Guerrilla 

In 1985 The Museum of Modern Art in New York put up a show titled “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture.” Of the 165 artists featured in this self-proclaimed survey, only 17 were women. Then-curator, and pompous blowhard, Kynaston McShine released a statement claiming that “any artist who is not in my show should rethink his career.” When a cadre of feminist artists working in New York City took McShine at his word and began to reevaluate their place in and out of the museum, the Guerrilla Girls were born.

One Guerrilla Girl has said, “After about 5 minutes of research we found that it was worse than we thought: the most influential galleries and museums exhibited almost no women artists. When we showed the figures around, some said it was an issue of quality, not prejudice. Others admitted there was discrimination, but considered the situation hopeless…. The artists blamed the dealers, the dealers blamed the collectors, the collectors blamed the critics, and so on. We decided to embarrass each group by showing their records in public.”

Admittedly, things were bad in 1985. Guerrilla Girls posters publicized the fact that at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, even though fewer than 5% of the artists were female, more than 85% of the nude artworks featured women. And despite my inherent desire to blame America, statistics like these were largely representative of public and private collections worldwide.