The Baltimore Museum of Art has decided that next year, they’re embarking on a serious effort to help change the imbalance of male to female artists. During 2020, the museum will only buy artworks by artists who are female and those who identify as female. Their choice also coincides with the 100th anniversary the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, which gave women in the US the right to vote.
‘This vision and goal are especially appropriate’ said Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) in a press release, ‘given the central role women have played in shaping this museum throughout its history.’ Women were critical to the museum accumulating impressive collections of works by artists like Henri Matisse (the BMA is opening research center dedicated to the artists in 2021) and Pablo Picasso. Women have also helped boost the museum’s collection of surrealist works, artworks by Old Masters, and works by North American and European artists. Women involved in the BMA have also made strides in funding the museum’s education endowment and between 1923 and 1926, Florence Levy was the museum’s first director, paving the way for more women leaders within the museum throughout its history.
In 2018, the BMA made the controversial choice to sell seven works by prominent artists including Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol. That move brought on criticism by some but has freed up space and provided, in part, funds for the investment the BMA is looking to make. Five of the paintings, alone, accrued nearly $8 million, which the museum has already used to purchase works by women artists and artists of colour. The museum has noted that their women-only policy will only extend to purchased works, there will be no rules for gifted works.
In 1916, just two years after it was founded, the BMA acquired its first work made by a woman, a portrait by Sarah Miriam Peale, and that began a small cohort of female artists represented by the museum. Today, almost 3,800 works by more than 1,000 women are a part of the BMA’s stores. However, as they stand now, those works stand for only four percent of the museum’s vast 95,000-strong collection.
Working to expand their collection is part of a larger initiative at the BMA, which they’ve termed their 2020 Vision. During the year, the BMA will host more than 20 exhibitions that focus on female artists. Of those, 13 will be solo exhibitions and seven are thematic. The museum is diving head-first into their initiative and they have already opened a large-scale commission from Mickalene Thomas and they will soon open ‘Free Form: 20th-Century Studio Craft’ and ‘Adorned: African Women & the Art of Identity,’ both of which focus on female artists.
‘This how you raise awareness and shift the identity of an institution,’ Bedford told The Baltimore Sun. ‘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.’ The BMA seems to want to make 2020 a radical year to remember.