Art

The Baltimore Museum of Art Pledged to Only Buy Art From Women. Women Are Skeptical.

Genuine altruism or publicity stunt?

Baltimore Museum of Art
The Baltimore Museum of Art wants to put women first in 2020, but women aren't buying it.
Instagram/@baltimoremuseumofart
By Kayla Kibbe / December 4, 2019 10:05 am

Last month, the Baltimore Museum of Art attracted attention and praise for announcing plans to only purchase art made by women in 2020 in an attempt to rectify the museum collection’s massive gender imbalance. According to CityLab, a mere four percent of the museum’s 95,000 artworks were created by women — reflective of a general imbalance throughout the art world.

“To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical,” Christopher Bedford, the museum’s director, told the Baltimore Sun of the museum’s 2020 initiative.

However, not everyone agrees that Bedford’s presumably groundbreaking movement is really so radical at all. Leading the pack of skeptics? The very women in the arts Bedford claims to be promoting. In a November 26 feature published by BmoreArt, more than two dozen women voiced doubts about the museum’s new initiative, calling it “tokenism,” “contrived,” and “headline friendly.”

According to many of Baltimore’s women artists, the museum may inadvertently be doing more to reinforce the very gender disparity it claims to subvert.

“By making gender a point of promotion, the museum frames the work of these artists through that non-default category, reinforcing the woman artist as a spectacle,” wrote Maura Callahan, a Baltimore arts writer, in one of the 27 letters published last month in BmoreArt.

Others questioned why Bedford’s call to action on behalf of women in the arts was finally being not only heeded but lauded when such initiatives launched by women in the arts themselves have long been ignored.

“Why did a male’s call to action seem to resonate so loudly in this instance when women are the subject and have been calling for the same action forever?” asked Donna Drew Sawyer, chief executive officer of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. “Is this initiative an exceptional act of inclusion or exceptional because of pervasive exclusion?”

Ultimately, the women who are actually at the core of this issue seem to agree that while the Baltimore Museum of Art may be headed in the right direction, a year of purchasing art from women is hardly the radical movement toward canon equality Bedford makes it out to be.

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