Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Women Creating

By Jennifer Leigh

Since ancient time, women have contributed in some form to the visual art; however, their work was largely excluded from art history. They were regarded as inferior to their male counterparts.

It wasn’t until the modern age, specifically the wave of feminism in the 1960s that the art world started to rework its thinking. And it’s only made the study of art and artists more interesting and diverse as feminist artists often embraced non-traditional mediums, broadening the definition of fine arts.

At Pensacola Museum of Art, the latest exhibit explores its permanent collection, showcasing modern and postmodern female artists. “Collection in Context: Women Creating” explores the artwork of women through various mediums including photography, oil on canvas and etchings.

“Artist Georgia O’Keefe once stated, ‘The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters,’” said Alexis Leader, director of curatorial affairs for PMA. “This exhibit places women artists into the spotlight and showcases O’Keefe’s attitude in that these are not simply the museum’s best works by women, rather some of the museum’s best works.”

The installation is anchored by artists such as Miriam Schapiro, Louise Nevelson, May Stevens and Vivian Maier. Leader dug into the 600-plus piece permanent collection to find the woman artists acquired during PMA’s 61-year history.

“I have been digging in the museum’s Permanent Collection for well over a decade,” Leader said. “For this project, I have enjoyed working with old favorites coupled with new acquisitions—seven are being featured for the first time in this exhibition.”

“Women Creating” has been something Leader wanted to do since she returned to the museum as chief curator in 2013. The exhibition goes beyond gallery walls with a lecture from Barbara Larson, PhD, professor at University of West Florida, and a screening of the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier.”

“I am thrilled to finally have an opportunity to share it, and its accompanying exhibition-related programming, with our members and community,” said Leader.

While piecing the exhibit together, Leader said she wasn’t confined by categories — periods of art history, cultures, geographic regions or even mediums. Since the museum collection has grown to include artists such as Kathe Kollwitz, Juane Quick-to-See-Smith, Clementine Hunter, Emery Clark and Diana Kan to name a few, she had a lot to choose from.

“There was a freedom in organizing this exhibition,” she said. “Although these women have very different styles and ideas, they have all established themselves as prominent artists in a field usually dominated by men. I have pulled every work from the first woman artist purchased by the PMA, Louise Nevelson, to the most recent work acquired by the contemporary painter, Eleanor Ray.”

As a female art historian and curator, Leader has spent her career advocating for women artists.

“It is important to celebrate these artists, from all time periods and nationalities, to combat the gender bias that so often has swept these women’s achievements and talents beneath a rug of male-dominated art history,” she said.

This isn’t the first time PMA has produced an exhibit solely on female artists, but it is the first time the work has been plucked from the permanent collection, which is comprised of nationally and internationally recognized artists.

“I am proud to say that the museum has highlighted women artists in previous exhibitions,” said Leader. “However, certain works of the PMA’s collection have been featured in exhibitions, such as the museum’s 2003 ‘Divas: A Selection of Women Artists of the 20th Century,’ a remarkable exhibition curated by the PMA that paired collection pieces by artists such as Miriam Schapiro and Kathe Kollwitz with works on loan by artists such as Judy Chicago and Helen Frankenthaller.”

The PMA has also showcased solo exhibitions by notable artists such as Annie Leibovitz, Janet Fish, Jayne Holsinger and Lin Emery, Leader added.

According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, women run about 42 percent of the museums in the United States, although they are typically the ones with the smallest budgets. In Pensacola, several local galleries are led by women.

Suzanne Robbert, president of the board at Artel Gallery, says the number of women submitting their artwork has even grown in the six years she’s volunteered as president.

“If anything, the number of female artists that enter our shows is slightly higher,” she said. “Our current exhibition, ‘Cinco Banderas,’ has 33 female artists and 27 male artists.”

While Artel blindly selects works, Robbert said recognizing female artists and exhibits such as “Women Creating” is important “to keep our historical record accurate.”

“Art is a snapshot in time capturing the culture and people,” she continued. “It is essential to recognize women in the art community; otherwise we are erasing or ignoring a part of history. What sense does it make to snub any artist based on sex, sexual orientation, race or physical or mental ability?  Recognizing women artists of today is ensuring that future generations are viewing a complete history, not a censored one.”

Leader said “Women Creating” won’t correct the gender imbalance in the art world. It still does exist — only 27 women are represented in the current edition of H.W. Janson’s survey “History of Art,” which is up from zero in the 1980s. But it is a step forward — a beautiful one at that.

“It is an important step in a progressive shift through museums worldwide in educating and inspiring their visitors to make note of these women and the part, whether large or small, that they played within the timeline of the arts,” she said.

CONTEXT IN COLLECTION: WOMEN CREATING
WHAT: An exhibition presenting the diversity and growing strength of the Pensacola Museum of Art’s Permanent Collection, highlighting female modern and postmodern artists through a variety of media including photography, oil on canvas and etchings.
WHEN:  Now- Feb. 27
COST: $5-$7; Children under six and museum members are free
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
DETAILS: pensacolamuseum.org

Accompanying exhibition-related programming:

PMA PRESENTS: FINDING VIVIAN MAIER
WHAT: Screening of the critically-acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny who secretly took more than 100,000 photographs that she kept hidden in storage. This event is hosted by the Feminist Society of Pensacola.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10
COST: $5; Free for museum members

WOMEN IN THE ARTS WITH BARBARA LARSON
WHAT:  A lecture from Barbara Larson, PhD, professor at University of West Florida
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14
COST: Free