Today, the New York Road Runners are hosting the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile. The race begins just south of The Metropolitan Museum of Art — where the “Museum Mile” ends — and runs for another 20 blocks.
I was tempted to make this a joy run, a meditation of gratitude for all of the artists who have inspired me from the walls of The Met. There have been countless. However, my recent enjoyment of the two exhibitions at The Met Breuer (Diane Arbus: In the Beginning and Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible) affirmed how much better art can be when sexism and racism are not the show’s front-runners and reminded me how far we still have to go to achieve equal representation in the art world.
The Guerilla Girls, an anonymous group of female-identified artists, began challenging the lack of diversity in the 1980s. They looked around at the solo shows, group exhibitions, and permanent collections and counted how many female, queer, and artists of color were included. Almost none. The Guerilla Girls papered downtown with the infamous lithograph (1989):
Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.
Women were forbidden from studying the nude model from the 16th to 19th century. They were shielded from this academic 101 requirement that forms the foundation for educational training and subsequently the opportunity for the artist’s work to be seen. Since, inclusion of female artists has risen, but considering that more than 60 percent of students enrolled in art programs in the United States are currently women, one would expect the numbers to be higher.
In “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes,” Maura Reilly reports in ARTnews about the systemic bias against women manifesting itself in the top international museums, biennials and documenta, market, and press. She tallies the percentages of inclusion, male versus female. Progress toward diversity is noticeable in bar charts that resemble stone being chipped away. But then, the last Whitney Biennial overlooked female artists and was criticized as “the whitest Biennial since 1993.” The curation was so contentious it caused protests, boycotts, and an anti-exhibition. Numbers of inclusion speak louder than mission statements.
Reilly’s call to action for the art world: “Right the balance.”
As an art admirer and collector, one way I can advocate for artists is to talk about them, include their work in my everyday life.
This morning I’m running those 20 blocks in the New Balance mile with equal parts gratitude for the progress we have made, as well as cheer for artists, who are still underrepresented — invisible, ignored, dismissed. For 10 blocks, I’m meditating on the inspiration The Met has gifted me, including the luminous Uta Barth and her fixation on those spaces in-between and that glorious Vivienne Westwood “Tits” t-shirt. For 10 blocks, I’m meditating on 10 female artists, who are creating great, emerging work that I hold dear. One of whom, I’ll be wearing.
Conceptual artist, Sophia Wallace challenges the taboos and misinformation about female genitals in her body of work, “CLITERACY.” Since 2012, she has created compelling mixed media representations of the anatomically correct clitoris, as well as text-art truth about its function, including “over and over and over and over” scripted in neon, along with engaging performances (such as riding a bucking bronco of a clitoris), and what her Wiki page refers to as “unauthorized street installation.” Pieces of which were part of the Whitney Biennial protest.
“The Whitney should grow a clit,” Wallace told Jessica Valenti at The Guardian. She distributed stencils of a full clitoris at protests.
Believe in meritocracy? Wallace challenged, “Put a clit on it.”
I’m running with a 1/1 Sophia Wallace original clitoris on my race numbers.
Similar to running a race, progress is about forward motion, counting, and striving. As we evolve from dragging our knuckles, what we create is so often about our bodies — our tits and clits and the spaces between — as our very own foundations. We’re in similar pursuits, pushing ourselves, our wills into shape and creating personal records.
Strive to right the balance, mile after mile, piece after piece.