Jerry Saltz’s special request

In 1991 I was the only woman in my graduate school class, so I have an inkling of what Mia Westerlund Roosen must have felt like among this group of guys; still I find the photo shocking. It was taken at the 25th Anniversary party of Leo Castelli Gallery in 1982. Standing left – right: Ellsworth Kelly, Dan Flavin, Joseph Kosuth, Richard Serra, Lawerence Weiner, Nassos Daphnis, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenberg, Salvatore Scarpitta, Richard Artschwager, Mia Westerlund Roosen, Cletus Johnson, Keith Sonnier. Seated left – right: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Leo Castelli, Ed Ruscha, James Rosenquist, Robert Barry. Photo by Hans Namuth

Art critic Jerry Saltz continues to engage his Friends in lengthy, heartfelt discussions on his Facebook page. This week his topic was gender bias at MoMA and he asked bloggers to repost the topic to see if the conversation would get any traction outside his Facebook page. Happy to oblige, here’s the original post as well as his subsequent comments and clarifications.
“The Museum of Modern Art practices a form of gender-based apartheid. Of the 383 works currently installed on the 4th and 5th floors of the permanent collection, only 19 are by women; that�s 4%. There are 135 different artists installed on these floors; only nine of them are women; that�s 6%. MoMA is telling a story of modernism that only it believes. MoMA has declared itself a hostile witness. Why? What can be done?”

Saltz response 1. To those who have complained that installing the work of women will mean too much so-called “lesser” work will be on view. You can’t develop what Oscar Wilde called “the critical spirit” if you’re mainly seeing the story as it has always been told. Seeing only what… Read More�s already been seen doesn’t tell you how good or bad this work may be. As Andr� Malraux wrote, “We can feel only by comparison. The Greek genius is better understood by comparing a Greek statue to an Egyptian or Asiatic one than by acquaintance with a hundred Greek statues.”

Saltz response 2.The programmatic exclusion of women is partly attributable to the art world’s being a self-replicating organism: It sees that the art that is shown and sold is made mainly by men, and therefore more art made by men is shown and sold. This is how the misidentification, what Adorno called a “negative system,” is perpetuated.

Saltz response 3. Here is a list of 57 women artists already owned by MoMa, none of whom are on exhibit on the 4th & 5th flrs. perm. collection (work before 1970): Alice Neel, Georgia O… Read More�Keefe, Florine Stettheimer, Joan Mitchell, Hannah Hoch, Anni Albers, Louise Nevelson, Claude Cahan, Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fine, Dora Maar, Lee Miller, Jo Baer, Elaine de Kooning, Romaine Brooks, Ree Morton, Howardena Pindell, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Alma Thomas, Emma Kunz, Eileen Gray, Clementine Hunter, Adrian Piper, (cont in next post)…

Saltz response 4. cont from last post): Dorthea Rockburne, Lee Lozano, Vija Celmins, Maria Lassnig, Gego, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Maya Deren, Pat Steir, Hedda Stern, Barbara Hepworth, Gwen John, Jay DeFeo, Jane Freiliecher, Minnie Evans, Merit Oppenheim, Betty Parsons, Bridget Riley, Claire Zeisler, Kay Sage, Grandma Moses, Sister Gertrude, Hilla Af-… Read MoreKlimnt, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Dorothea Tanning, Janet Sobel, Atsuko Tanaka, Francoise Gilot, Anne Truitt, Ruth Vollmer, Jane Wilson, Sylvia Sleigh, Paula Rego, Marguerite Zorach �

Saltz response 5. The point is, when it comes to being artists, women can be as bad as men. The problem is that even now, decades after the onset of women’s liberation, women aren’t being allowed to demonstrate this. I doubt that there’s a conscious effort to keep women from showing, yet the percentage of women exhibiting in museum PERMANENT COLLECTIONS is grievously low.

Frankly, I’m interested in looking ahead, not browbeating MoMA into rethinking their existing collection. My goal is to work toward future inclusion, and I hope writing about women on this blog and elsewhere will help boost more women’s careers. Better careers today will translate into higher auction prices and better museum representation tomorrow. As women exercise more control over curating exhibitions, writing art criticism, directing museums, the bias against female artists will inevitably fade. Thanks to affirmative action, the number of female faculty members teaching in art schools and universities continues to grow as well.

What do Two Coats readers think?

UPDATE: MoMA sent this response to Jerry Saltz:
Hi all, I am (Kim Mitchell) Chief Communications Officer here at MoMA. We have been following your lively discussion with great interest, as this has also been a topic of ongoing dialogue at MoMA. We welcome the participation and ideas of others in this important conversation. And yes, as Jerry knows, we do consider all the departmental galleries to represent the collection. When those spaces are factored in, there are more than 250 works by female artists on view now. Some new initiatives already under way will delve into this topic next year with the Modern Women’s Project, which will involve installations in all the collection galleries, a major publication, and a number of programs. MoMA has a great willingness to think deeply about these issues and address them over time and to the extent that we can through our collection and the curatorial process. We hope you’ll follow these events as they develop and keep the conversation going.

Related posts:

Art Fag City has posted a summary of the original Facebook discussion.

John Haber weighs in at haberarts.com

Why Saltz prefers posting on Facebook rather than using a more open blog format

Join Jerry Saltz’s group on Facebook

And anaba sent a link to this image:

Artists pictured in 1993 are John Chamberlain, George Condo, Donald Judd, Robert Ryman, Claes Oldenburg, Joel Shapiro, Robert Mangold, Lucas Samaras, Saul Steinberg, and Jim Dine.


  1. Terrific points, Sharon. “Start looking ahead, rather than staring at the past.” Can we say the lesson of the pillar of salt?

    I’m doing my part by reviewing some of the best female artists of today (including one of the most jaw-dropping shows I’ve ever seen– the up-right-now Laurel Nakadate show at Tonkonow Projects).

    I was originally tempted to post Jerry’s stuff, but my blog is dedicated to reviews only, and as much as I love Saltz, no man’s going to tell me what to write about, so I’m keeping to doing my thing.

    Sisters doing it for themselves.


  2. In my experience art school was where this gender bias started. It was a boys club then and it still is. It never ever surprises me anymore. Sad.

  3. Those kinds of pictures make me angry which is dumb because they are very common. And if you point it out, people just think you’re bitter. – But I am looking at everything now – especially group photos of the In Crowd.

    For instance, there’s a gallery in SF I have admired for many years… but I knew that my chances of showing there are next to zero. Most of the (very few) women artists they’ve shown are dead. Last time I was there, I was in the dealer’s office. A grand painting is in the room – big – painted by one of their artists. It’s a group portrait of artists who have shown there. Out of this big group, there is only one woman. And I couldn’t help but notice that she is ancient, shorn and looking downward, lacking any bravado (certainly not the attitude of many of the men).

    This is in a contemporary art gallery mind you.

  4. sorry for another link back to myself, but here’s a picture from 1993 that will equally shock –


  5. Thanks for the link.Sigh.

  6. It's heartbreaking. And to think it continues on. I think back on my teaching career, where the vast number of students (and many of the best) were female. Will they stand a better chance at being taken seriously as artist's than I have? I hope so.

    Thank you for your post.

    Your blog is wonderful.

  7. Not to forgive MOMA, but the museum's collection did begin long before feminism took root, and therefore its holdings are largely works by men. But I was a little blown away by the percentage. Clearly there are hundreds (or thousands) or women making great art now, and not just in New York. I've followed Jerry's discussion on FB about this subject and it is quite possible (I suppose MOMA's communications people reading the posts) that the veil, once lifted, can shift the bias and change the direction of the collection. We are reminded though, that public collections are not reflections of democracy in action � either in the New York art world, the rest of the art world, and certainly not in the art market.

    Enjoying looking through your posts… a lush place here…


    Matthew Rose/Paris, France

  8. Oddly, In 1991 I was the only male in my graduate school class. I always thought that experience would make for a rather interesting documentary. Still, my opinion strongly concurs with the prevailing discussion, which brings us back to 1991 again and the exchange of ideas about the Master Narrative, Gender Politics, Hillary Clinton, and the Gorilla Girls.

    After more than twenty years of struggle, to read what Jerry Saltz and many others have to say is not very encouraging.

    I'm glad Jerry mentioned the "Critical Spirit" and "only seeing the stories that have already been told." Many unseen things contribute to our fence-line communities (and marginalized narratives): Gender, Race, Culture, Community, Economy, Technology, Materials, Language, etc.

    Like many I too feel I have a stake, from my place, in the ongoing, critical conversation about the contemporary art world.

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