Gender balance in art exhibitions

By | Category: Travel rumblings

From the BBC comes a report that there is a gender imbalance amongst the exhibitions held at the National Museum of Wales. It reports that at exhibitions held between 2016 and 2018 showed the work of 83 women compared with 273 men.

The Two Fridas painted in 1939. (Image www.FridaKahlo.org.) Frida kahlo is a name that will attract a large number of visitors

Probably a similar ration would be found at other museums and galleries not just in the UK but around the world.

As a visitor, as a tourist and hopefully in the eyes of the museums and galleries someone willing to pay money, I would want to see familiar figures often of world standing reputation. And there’s the rub. Big names draw big crowds. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, da Vinci, Munch (an exhibition of his works opens today at the British Museum)  will entice the visitors. In the last few years it is probably only Frida Kahlo who has managed to attract so many people to visit.

The question is whether there many women artists of stature to attract huge crowds? Names like Tracy Emin, Gillian Ayres, Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Beryl Cooke, Barbara Hepworth, Tamara de Lempicka may be sufficient but what of, for example, Gwen John, Emily Carr, Judy Cassab or Dorothea Tanning? Would Maggie Hambling, Phyllida Barlow, Cathy Wilkes, Katie Paterson or, probably the greatest Welsh painter alive today, Shani Rhys James, bring hundreds of thousands of people into a gallery? Outside the small group of art affecionados, how many people recognise the names?

Judy Cassab’s “Ayres Rock”

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibition that was at the Kelvingrove last year and at the Walker this uses a man’s name to draw crowds but features a number of works by women – including Mackintosh’s wife – revealing that they were just as creative but why don’t they have the same appeal?

How Maggie Hambling sees Stephen Fry

How many female artists do we know of that reach back beyond the time of Rembrandt and Holbein? Barbara Longhi is one name that comes to mind, Catherina Van Hemessen is another as is Sofonisba Anguissola but for every one female there are dozens of men. Go into the High Street and ask how many people recognise these names?

To stay as solvent as possible, galleries and museums will probably have to promote the “big” names and they will, by and large, be men. But with every big-named exhibition couldn’t there be one profiling a female artist with the exhibition entrance fee including free entry into the second exhibition? That might help introduce visitors to a wider range of female artists.

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