I was in New York City over the weekend and went to the Guggenheim to check out Implicit Tensions, an exhibit of Mapplethorpe photos and other photos inspired by Mapplethorpe. I looooooove Mapplethorpe. I loved him ever since that retrospective of his photos sent Jesse Helms into a tizzy in the 1980s. I knew fuck-all about art back then but I knew instinctively that the art world was not best served by buckling under to pressure brought by old, white men. Old, white men can make and encourage great art but they can also display a staggering lack of imagination and that’s no bueno for creatives.
Anyway, after looking at the Implicit Tensions exhibit, my husband and I walked around the rest of the museum. They were featuring pieces from the permanent collection curated by well-known artists I was just sort of skimming what I was seeing on the walls. Then I got to the top level and read the notes from Jenny Holzer’s section. She straight up said that women artists are underrepresented in the Guggenheim collection.
I love that Madeleine Albright quote that says “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” The inverse is true as well: there is probably a special place in heaven for women who do help other women. Jenny Holzer did women in her industry a favor by pointing out that they don’t have a big enough seat at the Guggenheim table and probably the same is true at other major museums around the world. If you examine the issue even closer to see how well women of color are represented I suspect things get even more bleak.
I am sure there are studies on this but I’m too lazy to look them up. If I’m wrong, I apologize.
Anyway, it’s certainly not true that women of all stripes aren’t good enough artists to be part of major collections. It’s that men have dominated art for so long that many collectors and museums default to “man as artist” in their thinking.
I find this to be true in publishing as well. Not as a writer – the world of internet content is actually probably more egalitarian than traditional publishing. I find this more as a reader. A couple years ago, I set myself a goal of reading more authors of color. This is not entirely hard to do. You can find books by non-white authors without much trouble. The problem is they all tend to be Important Books that cover Important Themes and Move The Conversation In Important Ways.
While I do enjoy books like that, I also really like murder mysteries and psychological thrillers. Those genres are still pretty damn white, at least as far as the books you find on the new releases shelf at Barnes and Noble.
Are there women and people of color writing great psychological thrillers? Probably. But publishing isn’t highlighting them they way they highlight Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins. Readers have to go hunting for diversity in genre publishing and it’s annoying. I want to be able to discover new authors of color by strolling past a best seller display.
As intersectional feminists and consumers of art we have to establish ourselves as the market for under-represented groups in our art of choice. Buy the hell out of movies and plays and books and art and music by the kinds of people who need a boost. Money talks and we are the one with the money in this case. The more we buy, the more Big Publishing and Big Museums and Big Hollywood and Big Theatre will want to sell us.
And I think we should all do this because this is one intersectional feminist act that doesn’t require and sacrifice or suffering. You expand a market for artists and in return you get to enjoy some awesome art, music, plays, movies, or literature. Everyone wins and the patriarchy might not notice that we’re poking holes in it.