Museums Criticized for Ignoring Women Artists — and Architects (as L.A. Times Cans Woman Art Reporter); Should Gender Matter?

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The LA Times’ Christopher Knight has just published an article chiding this region’s major museums — LACMA, MOCA and the Getty — for not giving an equal number of solo shows to…

The LA Times’ Christopher Knight has just published an article chiding this region’s major museums — LACMA, MOCA and the Getty — for not giving an equal number of solo shows to women as men, citing the “unusual” length of time given to James Turrell at LACMA and space given to Urs Fischer at MOCA. But how much should gender drive who gets a museum show?

Ironically, Knight’s commentary appears the very week the newspaper laid off its hard-charging, female art reporter, Jori Finkel, prompting most of the region’s museum directors, including the Getty’s Jim Cuno, LACMA’s Michael Govan and MOCA Jeffrey Deitch, to sign a petition demanding her reinstatement.

Knight’s complaint resonates with the same charge being made by some about the current wave of Pacific Standard Time Presents architecture shows, even though most feature work from a period when the profession was predominantly white and male. The complaints are being made against a backdrop of anger at the Pritzker Committee for not retroactively giving Denise Scott-Brown co-credit for the Pritzker Prize awarded in 1991 to her husband and work partner Robert Venturi (Scott Brown, shown above, when she and Venturi were “learning from Las Vegas“).

Urs FIscherOf all the architecture shows that are part of Pacific Standard Time Presents, only one is a solo show, and it focuses on a male architect, at the very museum that Knight singles out for its gender equity in solo art shows, the Hammer. That museum is displaying the work of A. Quincy Jones  (whose career, incidentally, was aided in an important way by a woman, his wife, Elaine Jones, who handled his marketing.)

At MOCA’s New Sculpturalism show, which admittedly is a group survey, not a solo show, one of its three commissioned pavilions is by a solo woman practitioner, Elena Manferdini; another is by P-a-t-t-e-r-n-s, a male/female couple (Georgina Huljich and Marcelo Spina, below right); however the majority of the architects in the rest of the show are male.

The one PSTP show that has been singled out for its attention to women is curator Sylvia Lavin’s Everything Loose Will Land exhibit at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which includes work by artist Judy Chicago and the abovementioned Denise Scott Brown.

But A. Quincy Jones is a significant talent whose work, irrespective of his sex, arguably warrants its own show. The same could be said for the Turrell and Fischer shows. As for Knight’s exhibit time and space objections, the power of the Urs Fischer-and-1500-friends show at MOCA’s Geffen (left) seems to lie in its sheer immensity, while LACMA’s Turrell show is so popular the lengthy duration seems reasonable.

Patterns 1This begs the question, to what extent should gender be a determinant in choosing subjects for shows? If gender should be a determinant, then what about race? Do LA’s museums give sufficient attention to art by African-American, Latino or Asian artists?

Should any of that matter? Are there absolute values for what constitutes exceptional art or architecture and do they transcend gender/race?

I’d like to have heard more from Knight about the quality of the work of the 50% women artists exhibited at the Hammer. Was it as good as the male artists’ work? Or better? Was it selected because the artist was female or despite her gender (hopefully the latter)?

I’d also like to have heard more about the multiple factors that affect an artist’s or architect’s career. Are men better at self-promotion, for example? Are arts writers and editors more susceptible to reporting on male artists/architects? Do clients of architecture and art prefer to work with men?

Christopher Knight says the art market privilege male artists. Why? And thereby how much do art collectors and donors influence which artists get museum shows?

If arts and architecture school are now producing equal numbers of male and female grads, what happens later in their careers to change the ratio? Is the issue one of a glass ceiling or talent or diverging priorities later in life?

There are many questions. If you have thoughts on this, do send us a comment.