A Guerrilla Girls poster at Abrons Arts Center in April, claiming that sexism is worse in the European art world (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A Guerrilla Girls poster hanging at Abrons Arts Center in May, claiming that sexism is worse in the European art world (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Art collector Valeria Napoleone is spearheading an initiative to put artwork by women in museums in the UK and US. As reported by ARTNews, the project consists of two parts: a collaboration with SculptureCenter in Long Island City, Queens, which will see Napoleone sponsor a major commission by a woman artist at the nonprofit every 12–18 months, and a collaboration with the London-based Contemporary Art Society, which will entail the buying and donation of a “significant work” by a living woman artist to a UK museum each year, according to a press release.

The full scheme of the UK part of the initiative is a bit more complicated, though. For one, only museums that are members of the Contemporary Art Society may apply — though this does, fortunately, include many leading institutions, among them all four Tates and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Here are more details from ARTNews:

Museums will apply for … support; one institution will be selected. The work given to the selected museum will be previewed at the Camden Arts Centre, and then the artist of the chosen work will also have a solo show at the museum. Unlike the SculptureCenter work, which would be created specifically for a solo show at that institution, the Contemporary Art Society work would come from the artist’s existing body of work and be tailored to the museum Napoleone selects.

Valeria Napoleone (photo by Michael Leckie, via Contemporary Art Society) (click to enlarge)

I must admit, it strikes me as odd to shape an initiative aimed at institutions that have mostly not prioritized the collecting of women artists for a century as something for which said institutions must apply. I fear, too, that the acquisition of a single work by a single woman artist at a single different UK museum every year is not likely to produce much in the way of a structural shift. And while I appreciate the emphasis the project places on making sure these works are not only acquired but also shown, Napoleone’s extremely hands-on approach (she is a trustee of the Contemporary Art Society) makes the whole thing feel a bit like some sort of self-promotional market-museum pipeline. The initiative is called, after all, Valeria Napoleone XX.

Still, this is the neoliberal capitalistic museum system we’ve built, and I suppose one shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds it. Especially when that hand means to fight gender inequality. Not every museum is lucky enough to have its own behind-scenes woman-focused donor or a pair of uniquely creative local artists to spur it to fix its problems. And as one of those latter artists said: “‘Collectors and donors should realize they have much more of an influence’ on the city and the museum than they might think.”

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...