Baltimore Museum of Art seeks to redress inequality through focus on women artists

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BALTIMORE – The Baltimore Museum of Art has announced that it will dedicate the next year to women artists, most notably by spending its entire acquisitions budget for the year on works of art by women, as part of its 2020 Vision campaign.

The Baltimore Museum of Art [Wikimedia Commons]

The museum’s permanent collection contains over 95,000 pieces of art, but only about 4% of those pieces were created by women. Next year’s initiative is meant to help rectify that imbalance. “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,” the museum’s director, Christopher Bedford, told the Baltimore Sun. “To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical.”

The 2020 acquisitions budget is approximately $2 million. Last year, the museum sold seven pieces by famous artists like Andy Warhol for $8 million in order to fund acquisitions of works by women and artists of color – a move that frustrated some critics.

While the additions to the permanent collection will be the longest-lasting changes to the museum, the institution will also hold 22 exhibitions over the course of the year, each of which will also be focused on artists who identify as women. One planned exhibition will focus on work by Zackary Drucker, who is transgender. Other exhibits will focus on work by Mickalene Thomas, Joan Mitchell, and the video artist Candice Breitz, among others.


The trailer to “Love Story” (2016), one of the works by Candice Breitz showcased in 2020 Vision.


In addition to the exhibitions based on individual artists, a number of thematic exhibitions are also planned as part of Vision 2020. Among these are a collection of beaded works from the 19th century created by Lakota women, which is planned to open in the summer, and “Adorned: African Women and the Art of Identity,” which will open this month. “Adorned” contains 24 works that, according to the Baltimore Museum, “demonstrate the critical role of 20th-century African women in shaping and maintaining social identities through objects created in clay, cloth, and beads.”

One exhibit planned for later in the year may be of special interest to Pagan audiences. “Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power and Protest” plans to showcase art from Europe and America that involves female power, agency, and resistance to patriarchy. This exhibition includes representations of women as mythological heroes and witches alongside more modern archetypes like the femme fatale. “Women Behaving Badly” also focuses on “intellectuals, entertainers, and activists who rebelled against the traditional roles of wife and mother,” according to the museum.

The Baltimore Museum of Art’s lack of representation for women artists is not unusual, according to a recent study by Artnet. While many museums have claimed that they are attempting to do better, Artnet’s study shows that since 2008, only 11% of new acquisitions by 26 prominent American museums involved work by women artists. Even worse, those figures have not gotten better over the decade.

“These numbers are a little heart-wrenching,” Mickalene Thomas, one of the artists showcased in 2020 Vision, told Artnet. “But they are also awakening. This is not about who you are as an artist—there is a system that you aren’t a part of. It’s still a boys’ game.”

Mickalene Thomas in 2017 [Bangabandhu, Wikimedia Commons]

The Baltimore Museum of Art’s 2020 initiative is only the beginning of the process of bringing equal representation to women in the art world. “We think all museums should do it,” says Biana Kovic, executive director of the National Association of Women Artists. “It’s particularly important that the BMA is creating a platform for woman artists to showcase their work, because that will inspire other women to make art. Even today, female artists are highly under-represented in museums. We have a lot of work still to do about educating the public on the importance of women in American art history.”

Shan Wallace, a Baltimore-based photographer whose work will be included in one of 2020 Vision‘s exhibitions, told the Baltimore Sun that she considers it “absurd” that of the 95,000 works held by the Baltimore Museum of Art, only 3800 of them are by women. “I am glad,” she added, “that my hometown museum is embarking on something this important.”

Exhibitions for 2020 Vision begin this month and will continue throughout the year.