Kriston links to two New York magazine features exemplifying one very sharp and one, shall we say, unhelpful approach to evaluating gender representation in modern art museums. The sharp feature is an immaculately argued article by art critic Jerry Saltz on the scant representation of women in MoMA’s permanent collection. It allows that, history being what it is, 50/50 symmetry is not to be expected, then picks out a series of specific female artists who merit inclusion and a few of the males who could reasonably be warehoused to make room. When the women she names are not widely-recognized greats (to a general audience, anyway) she offers brief accounts of their contributions, and suggests how the omission of their perspectives oversimplifies and misrepresents the history of late-19th and early-20th century art.
This is, unfortunately, paired with a totally useless rundown of the gender representation at six “art world institutions.” I say “useless” not just because a decontextualized percentage almost always obscures more than it illuminates in cases like these (what’s the “right” number?) but because they’ve thrown together wildly different sorts of institutions. It might at least be moderately telling to compare six similar art festivals or six otherwise similar galleries. But no, we get the permanent collection at the Whitney (15%) with the most recent Venice and Art Basel festivals (24%, 27%) with the fucking Frick collection, which as a storehouse of old European masters shockingly comes in last, with a mere 1% of its works by female artists. Note also that it mixes huge permanent collections with much smaller and (almost by definition) more idiosyncratic galleries, where the numbers are apt to be highly sensitive to a swing of a few works or artists. I suppose it’s at least a sign we’re not regressing—it would look suspicious if, for instance, last year’s Art Basel showcased no more women than the Whitney’s permanent collection—but it’s otherwise a befuddlingly unhelpful juxtaposition, especially for a reader who doesn’t have an immediate association (with the relevant context) for all of these institutions.