Four per cent: That’s the percentage of the 383 works on the 4th and 5th floors (Painting & Sculpture) of the MOMA’s permanent collection created by women (19 out of 383), according to New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz.
Figures like this 4% remind us that the art world is nowhere near gender equality. Why? Why does this inequality persist after the advent of feminism and the advancement of contemporary art over the past 30 years? It seems to be a complicated art-world intertwining of economics and an impulse towards established paradigms. As artist Mia Perlman pointed out in the Facebook comments:
MoMA invests in art and a LOT of people, probably most of its board, think that art by women is a bad investment. Fix the value perception and you fix the problem. One way to do this is to integrate the permanent collection so that works by both are equal in status. The next is filling in the holes in the collection by artists that might be lesser known. The next is giving shows to living, working women and not just hot young ones either.
Saltz went on to describe the cyclical problem of the art market as a “self-replicating organism”:
The programmatic exclusion of women is partly attributable to the art world’s being a self-replicating organism: It sees that the art that is shown and sold is made mainly by men, and therefore more art made by men is shown and sold. This is how the misidentification, what Adorno called a “negative system,” is perpetuated.
It’s important to acknowledge that these factors determine exactly whose art gets visibility in the marketplace. This is the reason why we still need organizations with an express purpose to promote contemporary art made by women–not because some phantom woman-hating boys’ club is actively seeking to exclude women artists, but because the very real self-perpetuating “negative system” is still in place.