Historically, women have been underrepresented in art on a scale that many, even in the art world, fail to understand.
Harwood Museum of Art Executive Director Dr. Richard Tobin specifically addressed this as a problem with a set of statistics published in his directorial essay for the museum's current exhibition, "Work By Women," which opened Friday (Feb. 9) at the museum.
Tobin said, "these metrics support the belief that the problem resides in our education and our institutions."
The Harwood Museum, one such institution, is 7,600 square feet of space spanning seven galleries. Today, for the first time in the museum's 95-year history, every square inch of the visual real estate, is occupied by women artists. The guest curators for the exhibition are Taos residents Janet Webb and Judith Kendall.
The intent behind the art selected was an important consideration. They were looking for a spirit of resistance that was distinct and recognizable within the respective mediums. Webb said, "For me, the stories of these women are as important as their artwork. We have tried to group the women by time frame and focus of artwork, so one can see the relationships. The goal was to honor these women, give them a bit of their due for devoting their lives to art."
Kendall said it was a challenge to decide which artists and pieces to select for the exhibit. She added that the museum has a plan to show the work not included by using an audio-visual platform.
"It was impossible to cover them all," she said. "We were excited to include artists whose work may not have been on display previously. It was wonderful to find the protest collages by Bea Mandelman and the 'WW1 Bombers' by Lady [Dorothy] Brett. There is imagery on exhibit that may not be what people are used to seeing by some of the artists."
Kendall continued, "A goal was certainly to honor but also celebrate the importance of women in art. It is particularly thrilling for me to go into the Brandenburg Gallery, normally filled with the 'Founding Fathers' and see only women hanging, especially the [Catharine] Crichers, the only woman accepted into the Taos Society of Artists. This is an important moment for all women to rise, to stand firm and not demur at all."
Kendall is a longtime resident of the community. She at one point owned The Fenix Gallery, which represented the Taos Modernists, along with other emerging and established artists from the area who continue to be collected.
She said curating this show was personal. "There has been an emotional component for me in helping to curate as my gallery represented so many women and I am familiar with their struggles."
She added, "I think I was most surprised by the scope of women in the collection who haven't been previously displayed. The Harwood is so famous for Agnes Martin's work, but there are so many wonderful Taos female artists!"
Webb exclaimed, "So many women not included! Limited space and time. This needs to happen again ... I hope the galleries and individual artists will create pop-up shows for women artists during the spring to create a dialogue with this exhibition."
The process of discovering and thematically linking close to 100 pieces for this historic event took three months and became an "all hands on deck" experience for the Harwood. Webb said that the "Harwood collection staff is incredible. Judy and I did the fun part; they did all the detail work."
In conjunction with the exhibition, plans call for a short play reading of a piece titled "Seven." It is about seven women who changed the cultures of their respective countries, from Pakistan to Russia.
The event is scheduled for March 9, the day after international women's day. In addition, Kendall said, "It is our intention and hope that in the months the work is hanging, the support panels, a play reading, films and lectures will draw more attention to women in the arts."
In her curatorial statement about the exhibition, Kendall said, "The Taos community has harbored and continues to harbor many strong, empowered women artists who share a love of place ... This often supersedes the pressures of an unaccepting global art market, of gender and ethnic inequalities and lack of representation. Gender equality has been a slow social movement, as the culture changes so goes the artist. In our digital world, an explosion of opportunities awaits artists who wish to enter an increasingly global market, making living in Taos easier."
The museum's website includes a quote by Taos writer John Nichols: "I have always thought of the Harwood as a sort of nest, a safe place, a sweet refuge." From February to May of 2018, the Harwood is indeed a refuge for women artists.
"Work By Women" stands as an immensely important and timely conversation starter about art in the age of #metoo.