Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Where are the women x ??

SF’s very own art critic has done it again – opened mouth, inserted foot. In a recent column he listed a number of Bay Area Artists that he feels were not appreciated in life. Look at the list – do you see any women there? Furthermore, except for Carleton Watkins and Selden Gile, you could justifiably argue that all of these artists were (and are) appreciated in their lifetimes, have gallery representation, fetch high prices at auction and are in the history books.

Carleton Watkins (1829-1916)
Selden Gile (1877-1947
Sargent Johnson (1888-1967
Ansel Adams (1902-1982)
David Park (1911-1960)
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
Robert Arneson (1930-1992).
David Ireland (b. 1930).
Bruce Conner (1933-2008)
Imogene Cunningham

But if you limit yourself to this list, you’d never know that the Bay Area also produced a lot of women artists who have yet to receive their due. Even Jerry Saltz (in 2007!) knew enough to point out how underrepresented women were at MOMA. Yet here we are in 2009 and our resident art critic can't even rake up a few women's names for his list. Oh well, maybe it was a slow day at the Chronicle. Nevertheless...
Bernice Bing

N'Ima Leveton

One articulate response to this slanted view of art history came via JE Beltran’s column at SF Gate from SFAI’s curator and art historian Terri Cohn:

How does one define "underappreciated"? Ansel Adams hardly seems to qualify in this respect, as he is a household name in much of the world, and his talent was well recognized during his life. Ironically, most of the Bay Area artists who have been "underappreciated" in the Bay Area--including those Mr. Baker did not mention--have gotten some or a great deal of recognition elsewhere in the US, as well as in Europe and Asia. I guess

Joan Brown, Viola Frey, Jan DeFeo, Bernice Bing, Ruth Asawa, Imogen Cunningham, Jo Hanson, Imogene Cunningham, Ruth Bernhard (all deceased except Ruth Asawa, who is in her eighties), and so many others, don't qualify as either underappreciated or successful enough to make Baker's list.

It is just unconscionable in 2009 to publish such an article, that reinforces--with pictures!!--the status quo. Another missed opportunity. We're still waiting for those acknowledgments to be made--by the Chronicle's main art critic, no less--of artists of all sexes, duly noted for their accomplishments.

Or how about Ann Adair, Maxine Albro, Ruth Armer, Sue Bitney, Dianne Blell, Marianne Boers, Helen Bregner, Mary Fuller MCChesney, Alyceann McCaffrey, Edna Stoddart... Ever heard of any of them? In Guys and Dolls, the character played by Brando sings "Luck be a lady tonight" when he goes to roll the dice. I guess if you are a woman, the roll of the dice will seldom bring you the lucky seven.

I'd like to add my late teacher and friend N'Ima Leveton to the list. She lived and worked in SF for many years before moving to Mendocino. She was a student of Hans Hoffman, a life-long artist who communicated her passion for art to a generation of students. Yet, she is only remembered by those of us who knew and loved her. Does this make her less of an artist because she's not in the history books - and probably will never be? How many women fall into the same category? And how long is it going to take before the situation changes?

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