“There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules… that is what invention is about.” – Helen Frankenthaler
Hans Hoffman once praised his student Lee Krasner by saying her painting was “so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman.” Although her career both preexisted and outlived her relationship with Pollock, Krasner is often referred to as “Jackson Pollock’s wife” first, and a painter second. This is just one illustration of the sexism that has led to the disproportionate championing of men and men’s work throughout the history of art. Representation in museums is still an issue—as the Guerrilla Girls reminded us in 2012—less than 4% of the artists exhibited in the Modern Art wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were women whereas they made up 76% of the subjects in nude paintings. As recently as April 2015 works by women artists comprised only 7% of permanent collection items on view at the Museum of Modern Art. This creates a harmful misconception that most artists are men when in reality 51% of artists today are women.
As an experiment, I asked a friend of mine to name five artists off the top of his head. Initially he balked, but he was able to come up with Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Edouard Manet, and Mark Rothko (whom he charmingly referred to as the one who does the moody squares)—all male artists whom he referenced by their widely marketed surnames. I then asked if he could name five women artists. He hesitated and eventually came up with Georgia O’Keefe and Agnes Martin, and was admittedly embarrassed that he couldn’t come up with more. Ask yourself, who comes to mind when you think of an artist?
Together with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Jewish Museum is celebrating Women’s History Month by challenging gender bias in the art world. Throughout March, we’ll be highlighting works by women artists from the Jewish Museum collection and discussing their contributions to our museum as well as their personal significance to our staff. We are excited to partner with NMWA, and add our own context by profiling artists whose unique stories also speak to their identities as Jewish women. Lee Krasner, Nicole Eisenman, Eva Hesse, Miriam Schapiro, and Deborah Kass are just a few of the remarkable artists the Jewish Museum has collected and exhibited throughout the years whose careers we look forward to revisiting in the coming weeks. Follow along using #5WomenArtists and share your favorites from our collection on social media.