30 Years After the Guerrilla Girls: Searching for Women and Nonbinary Artists at the MET

Last time, we skimmed the surface of the obscurity of women and nonbinary artists. We discussed the historical restrictions on their artistic freedoms and examined the scarce increase in gender representation in modern times. Particularly, the Guerrilla Girls reported in 1989 with their bold headline “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?” that less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Arts section were female, but 85% of the nudes were female. A new group revisited the Modern Arts section twenty-three years later to discover that little had shifted. I then closed my discussion by urging people to actively seek out and support artists fighting against patriarchal museum standards.

Today, I want to do just that. Inspired by the new group of activists that revisited the MET in 2013, I want to share with you some MET work (across the entire museum, not just the Modern Art section!) that features gender-marginalized artists and/or themes of gender, masculinity, femininity and more. Hopefully, we can broaden our horizons today and support some incredible work!

1. Exhibition: The New Woman Behind the Camera

Watch a video on the exhibition above!

“The New Woman Behind the Camera,” which runs until October 3rd this year, takes you back to the early 1900’s. During this tumultuous period, women stepped to the forefront of visual politics and used photography as a vessel for social and political change. Their testimonies are wrapped into one diverse, wide-reaching exhibition that features 120+ women from over 20 different countries. “Among the photographers featured are Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Florestine Perrault Collins, Imogen Cunningham, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Consuelo Kanaga, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla.”

I love this exhibition because it is all-encompassing. The curators not only spotlighted a vast array of artists, but displayed a range of types of photography. I looked at fashion photography, advertisements, candid street photography, editorial shots and more. It was so intriguing to see all these elements form a cohesive women’s rights movement—I suspect you’ll love it too! You can visit it in-person (masks are still required!) or view it virtually.

2. Exhibition: “Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints: Revolution, Resistance, and Activism

“The Bravery of Parisian Women on October 5, 1789” by Jacques-Philippe Caresme – Courtesy of MET’s Public Domain Policy | https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/853159?&exhibitionId=%7b2bedba16-19bf-4dd2-bd65-ab645b6c3667%7d&oid=853159&pkgids=691&pg=1&rpp=4&pos=2&ft=*

In part a look at gender activism in the Renaissance, this installation explores the role paper works played in social causes. Given the number of drawings’ sensitivity to light, this exhibition can only be open for a limited time. You can view them until January 2022! Other causes examined include abolition and economic reform.

I liked looking at works that provide commentary on other issues besides gender, as art history is very interdisciplinary and is beneficial to many marginalized groups. However, the focus on gender is what we’re all here for, and I was absolutely fascinated by many paper pieces that commented on gender. I particularly like “The Bravery of Parisian Women on October 5, 1789” by Jacques-Philippe Caresme. Whenever I see engravings from a long time ago, it feels like a surreal experience to have a window into the past. Especially with this one, to see a traditional battlefield depiction with the untraditional female subjects was incredibly interesting. It makes you wonder what was running through Caresme’s mind, and makes you ponder the social atmosphere surrounding fighting women at the time. Were there more women than historians have considered? Or were these women anomalies, a public disgrace? What did their male counterparts think of them?

3. Exhibition: Alice Neel: People Come First

Preview the exhibit above!

Curated by Kelly Baum, this exhibition celebrates painter Alice Neel’s commitment to asserting the dignity of all humans. Neel was progressive, especially for her time, and painted people from many different walks of life.  She was influenced by many historical events including the Great Depression and the rise of communism, and dedicated herself to depicting people who had suffered under the weight of racism, sexism and capitalism.

I actually had the chance to meet the curator, Ms. Baum, at a MET teen event, and hearing her speak about the process of curating Neel’s works and the challenge of presenting them in an accessible, informative way was so intriguing. Let alone the fact that Neel’s use of color is so wonderful, her attention to rich cultural details is telling. It lends such eccentric, distinctive charm to each of her works. This exhibition actually stopped on August 1st, but you can still view Neel’s works and get a sense of what her artistic purpose was—I found it very profound. I hope you do too!

4. Article: “Great Women Artists,” Kathryn Calley Galitz

Marie Victoire Lemoine (French, Paris 1754–1820 Paris) The Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter, 1796 Oil on canvas; 45 7/8 x 35 in. (116.5 x 88.9 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Thorneycroft Ryle, 1957 (57.103) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436875

This fascinating article by Kathryn Calley Galitz takes a look at three painters who, at the turn of the century in France, radically re-envisioned the role of the country’s women artists. The first woman is Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, who was granted admittance to the elite Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Notably, at the time, only four women at a time were allowed entry. At a time when women were expected to confine their painting to the home, Labille-Guiard painted bold figure portraits that rejected feminie gender roles. Galitz also looks at Marie Victoire Lemoine’s “The Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter,” examining the subtle ways Lemoine displays feminine strength and rejection of gender roles, and Marie Denise Villers’ “Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes.” She tracks history from those women’s times up until the present day, noting the successes and changes women artists have achieved.

Galitz, who studied under the famous Linda Nochlin in the 90’s, does an incredible job of dissecting the history behind all of these paintings. Her attention to every detail is fascinating. Plus, the layout of the article is so visually appealing, and (in my opinion) makes for a better reading experience. The emphasis is put on the art; you are not inundated with writing, rather, the writing is there to help you out when viewing the art. This article is well worth your time!

Closing Thoughts

Now, this blog post was intended to celebrate the wonderful exhibits at the MET. What I didn’t necessarily want to do was focus on the negatives; however, I feel like a few comments are necessary. All in all, I still found it difficult to find many exhibitions that placed an emphasis on other artists besides cisgender males. I wouldn’t lose hope, though—one thing to note is that there is more gender representation among the curators and other faculty. Hopefully, that representation will bring along a more complete upheaval of the MET’s patriarchal traditions. I hope you all will support these exhibitions and the article, and support the faculty that worked so hard to create them! This is how change grows—individual actions build and build upon each other until a collective force is shaped. Let’s continue advocating for gender equity in the arts!

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