The Baltimore Museum of Art has been a hub for art work and culture in Maryland for years. This week, the museums leadership director Christopher Bedford had an interview with The Baltimore Sun, where he announced that the museum will only be acquiring art by women artists in 2020. The announcement is a part of the museums greater mission of further diversifying the artwork acquired for display, as well as raising up minority artists who don’t normally get the opportunity to have their work shown off in a real professional gallery setting. In 2018, the museum began this effort by selling many works by white male artists, and using the money earned from the sales to acquire pieces strictly done by women and minorities exclusively.
“This how you raise awareness and shift the identity of an institution. 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. To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical,” Bedford told The Baltimore Sun.
Bedford went on in the interview to explain how in the 22 exhibits on display, each will have a female centered focus. 19 of the 22 exhibits will showcase artwork that’s all exclusively done by female artists, and will include artwork done by one transgender woman, Zackary Drucker, as well. Additionally, Bedford said that two of the exhibitions will dive into the male gaze and how male artists tend to observe women in their art, and another exhibit will honor Adelyn Breeskin. Breeskin was the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art from 1942 to 1962 and a pioneer for giving female artists a voice, including her own. Now her artwork will be on full display in its own exhibit in the museum she helped sculpt for 20 years.
The process of a museum selling parts of its exhibits to make money to pay for newer collections is known as “deaccessioning” according to Forbes Magazine. The process itself is quite controversial in the art scene. Some critics of this process claim that it’s a museums responsibility to the community to make art completely accessible to the public, and view the selling of that art as a disservice to the public’s access to cultural artifacts. Add on top of that the fact that in this specific case the museum is deaccessioning work by male artists to purchase art exclusively by women and minorities, and a whole other controversy has begun. However, in this case, Bedford doesn’t seem too worried about the critics.
The whole goal of this process is to reverse the history of art acquisition in our world’s museums, which has always been a male dominated scene. Artnet News did an investigation into the museums of America and it’s female artist presence. The study found that in the past decade (2008 – 2018) throughout 26 of America’s major art museums, only 11% of new art acquired by these museums were done by women, and 14% of the permanent exhibits in general contained work by female artists. In addition, only 3% of that newly acquired work was done by African American artists.
Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns, the two authors of the investigation, discussed how it’s easy to assume why the art community is this way, as 16 of the 26 museums had men as their directors and of the countries top 10 art institutions, only one of them had a female director. The acquisition process thus speaks on a much larger issue of lack of female presence in the art world in general. So the decision for Baltimore to exclusively acquire and display female created art, is a part of a much larger effort for female voices to become more prominent in these institutions. Bedford stated that this acquisition process is just a piece of their larger “2020 Vision” program, which is honoring the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in this country. As a celebration of one of the first major women’s rights successes, the museum is including the yearlong program to “examine representations of female power and protest in American and European art,” (Forbes).
“The museum sees this as an opportunity to extend that commitment while also working to shift the scales within its collections, acknowledging that women artists are still underrepresented in the museum field and within museum collections. We hope this will serve as a model and a first step towards better representation within our field,” said a spokesperson for the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.