I had the interesting task recently of taking a small group of Wheaton College alumnae (class of 1960) on a “tour” of the 4th floor show, ‘Focus on Artists,’ at SFMoMA. After we looked at the first half of the exhibition, (beautiful, exciting, invigorating) I pointed out that among the eight artists “whose iconic works have been influential in defining movements from Abstract Expressionism to Postminimalism and beyond,” * none were women. One of the alumnae (Wheaton is a women’s college) then asked if there WERE any modern women artists. Now this is a person whose question came more from a simple lack of familiarity with 20th c. art – possibly with visual art in general – than from ignorance or lack of intelligence. So even if the question is naive, it’s also one whose asking, in January 2010, by a privileged Caucasian woman who was 22 in 1960, ought to raise some questions for curators, not to mention educators, critics, gallerists, historians, and artists.
We went on to the second half of Focus on Artists, where among the ten artists “whose work has signaled a shift toward more psychological, social, and historical content in art,”* seven were men, and three were women.
The museum’s decision to give a single rooms to each of 18 artists for the Focus on Artists show, as well as the choice to rotate a second round of works into the galleries mid-way through the show’s run, allows for an appreciably deeper experience of the artists’ work. There are many works on display that are old friends, and so nice to see again. But 15:3 is the kind of ratio that makes me want to know more about how the artists were selected. When I’ve learned more, I’ll post again.