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Last Thursday, Christopher Bedford, the Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), announced in an interview with the Baltimore Sun that the museum plans to adopt a new strategy for acquisitions and donations in 2020 by collecting only works by female-identifying artists as part of their “2020 Vision” programming. Considering that only 4% of the 95,000 artworks in the BMA’s permanent collection at present were created by women, it makes the decision practical as well as political. “We’re attempting to correct our own canon,” Bedford told the Sun. “We recognize the blind spots we have had in the past, and we are taking the initiative to do something about them.”
In recognition of the approaching centennial of the 19th amendment, which granted some women the right to vote in the United States, marks an impending trend of institutional programming designed to promote the work of marginalized female artists. A survey conducted earlier this year, looking at the permanent collections of 18 prominent art museums in the US, found that out of over 10,000 artists, 87% are male and 85% are white, illustrating how little has changed. According to our own publication, in 2014, on average only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries in the US were women. Addressing this long history of exclusion, Bedford says: “this how you raise awareness and shift the identity of an institution. You don’t just purchase one painting by a female artist of color and hang it on the wall next to a painting by Mark Rothko. To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical.”
In keeping with this radical theme, the museum is planning next year’s programming around the same topic. Twenty-two of its exhibitions on view in 2020 will have a “female-centric focus,” and 19 will showcase artworks exclusively by women. Two exhibitions will explore how male artists perceive women, according to the Sun, while another will honor the visionary Adelyn Breeskin, historian, curator and longtime director (1942-1962) of the BMA. The museums two ticketed exhibitions will likely be a “selection of videos” by South African artist Candice Breitz and a painting retrospective of the second generation abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell. Local Baltimore-based artists as Grace Hartigan, Betty Cooke, and Jo Smail are also on the exhibition list for 2020.
With the BMA expecting to spend up to $2 million next year purchasing the work of female artists, we hope this is just the beginning. As Bedford says, “This is a declaration of intent going forward of the kinds of exhibits we will have and the kind of acquisitions we will make. There can be no beginning and no end, just a consistency of effort in the right direction.”