The Baltimore Museum of Art, located at Johns Hopkins University, has announced its commitment to purchasing artworks made only by female and female-identifying artists over the course of the next year, a pledge that aims to address the sexism that has kept work by women out of major public and private U.S. institutions. The museum expects to allocate $2 million toward their purchases of art made by women in the coming year.
According to figures cited by NPR, only 4 percent of the BMA’s collection currently consists of work made by women. Christopher Bedford, the director of the BMA, recently told the Baltimore Sun that the decision to only acquire work by women was deliberately designed to be headline-grabbing and transformative — and long overdue. “You don’t just purchase one painting by a female artist of color and hang it on the wall next to a painting by Mark Rothko,” he said. “To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical.”
In addition to acquiring works made specifically by female artists, the museum is slated to put on 22 female-centric exhibits over the next year, a majority of which will consist of work made by women; any work by male artists in these exhibitions will be included in the context of the prevailing male gaze. “We’re attempting to correct our own canon,” Bedford added. “We recognize the blind spots we have had in the past, and we are taking the initiative to do something about them.”
BMA’s chief curator Asma Naeem told the Washington Post, “If you think about the word ‘artist,’ there’s a tacit assumption that it’s a male genius who is in fact the artist,” Naeem said. “That can be seen in the fact that we even call these ‘women artists.’ They’re not women artists. They’re artists.”
According to a report cited by the Washington Post, women’s artworks make up only 11 percent of the work acquired by major American museums between 2008 and 2018; the people holding the purse strings for these acquisitions simply are not valuing the purchase of art made by women. “Curators say they struggle to convince their acquisition committees to pay up for work, particularly by older, overlooked female artists, who frequently lack an auction history that might be used to validate the asking price,” read the report.
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