Last Friday night, “The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991 opened at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. In it were some of my favorite Guerrilla Girls posters. It was nice to see them but it was also kind of ironic.
2011 was the (unofficial) “Year of the Guy” at the CAMH. Men were the only artists who got shows – seven solo shows out of the nine total exhibitions in the museum. The 27-artist group show “The Spectacular of Vernacular,” had nine women and the downstairs Teen Council-organized show probably had some girls. I don’t know, I missed it.
On top of the seven all-male shows, James Surls got to put a sculpture on the front lawn. The program was also almost exclusively white male, with the exception of Clifford Owens who is African American. As far as I can tell, the only other diversity was in the sexuality of three of the white guys.
There were a lot of great shows at the CAMH last year. I don’t begrudge any of those guys having their work shown. And I don’t think institutions need to pass out exhibitions “one for you, one for you, one for you…” in some heavy-handed and patronizing agenda of inclusion that carefully schedules an Asian woman artist one month and a Latino guy the next. I also understand that scheduling shows is complex and that the timing isn’t always in the museum or the curator’s control. (To the CAMH’s credit 2010 had a much more diverse range of artists including two – downstairs – solo shows of women.)
But this is half the freaking population we’re talking about. There hasn’t been a solo show of a female artist in the CAMH’s upstairs main gallery since Mary Heilmann in 2007. What’s the deal?
So now after the “Year of the Guy” we get a group show of women artists who make art that deals with women’s issues. It’s not that it’s a bad show but coming on the heels of the all-male year, it just reminds me of the nineties when practically the only time African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women or anybody not a white male got shown was if their work dealt with their identity – and then only in a group show about their identity.
I don’t think the CAMH has some nefarious anti-woman agenda, I just think they’re like a lot of other institutions. The fact remains that, in spite of the huge numbers of talented women artists out there, those Guerrilla Girls posters are still true.