The museum industry has some serious work to do, in terms of equal representation.
Museum collections typically include far more works by white men than works by other artists, according to Rachel Zebro, curatorial associate of modern and contemporary art for Phoenix Art Museum.
It’s an issue she’s hoping to highlight, by curating an exhibition called “In the Company of Women.” The exhibit includes nearly 50 works from the museum’s permanent collection, including two by artists based in metro Phoenix.
The exhibit will open during First Friday on July 6, and continue through Sunday, August 12.
“Gender inequality has been at the forefront of our culture this past year, with the Me Too and Time’s Up movements,” Zebro says. “We wanted to be sure our audiences were aware that we’re seeing gender equality in multiple places, including the art world.”
Zebro notes that only 3 to 5 percent of art in major collections today are works by women, and says the Phoenix Art Museum’s collection likely falls within that range.
“Only 5 percent of the art hanging on museum walls is by women, and that figure is even less for women of color,” she says.
She’s mindful of another statistic, too.
When experts looked at 590 exhibits at 70 U.S. art institutions between 2007 and 2013, they found that just 27 percent were devoted to women artists.
But change is coming, Zebro says.
“A lot of institutions are making it a point to collect more works by women artists, especially women of color,” Zebro says. “We’re seeing a lot of solo exhibitions and retrospective exhibitions on women artists.”
Phoenix Art Museum is among them, she says.
In recent years solo exhibitions have featured women artists Magdalena Fernández, Sheila Pepe, and Iris van Herpen. And they’ve got two solo exhibitions by women up now – spotlighting Valeska Soares and Betsy Schneider.
For “In the Company of Women,” Zebro focuses on 20th- and 21st-century artists – including Mary Cassatt, Viola Frey, Frida Kahlo, Chieko Katsumata, Faith Ringgold, Cindy Sherman, and Louise Nevelson.
The exhibition is organized around three themes, including artistic production, identity, and representation. About half the works will have extended labels, which help viewers appreciate their historical and cultural significance.
The lineup includes ceramics, paintings, photographs, sculpture, and several other media. Fashion buffs can look forward to seeing pieces by several designers, from Ana Sui to Miuccia Prada.
In some cases, artists used unconventional materials such as immigration documents and corsage pins.
“In the Company of Women” includes Naturalized Citizen by Phoenix-based artist Annie Lopez. It’s a paper dress form made with family naturalization records using the cyanotype photography that creates a characteristic blue color.
It also includes Seer Bonnets, a Continuing Offense by Angela Ellsworth. The Tempe-based artist is represented by Lisa Sette Gallery. Created using pearl corsage pins, fabric, steel, and oak, it references the artist’s Mormon upbringing and feminist sensibility.
You’ll see the local focus during July First Friday, when more than a dozen visual and performing artists will be part of the opening reception from 6 to 10 p.m.
Show up by 6:30 p.m. if you want to hear a bilingual gallery talk in honor of Frida Kahlo’s birthday, or by 7 p.m. for a meet and greet with artist Annie Lopez.
From 6 to 9 p.m., Patricia Sannit will reprise Welcome My Love, developed for FORM Arcosanti 2018 in partnership with the museum.
The opening also includes short films, live music, a durational performance, artist demonstrations, a panel discussion with local creatives, sketching with live models, an exhibit-related bingo game, a living installation, and more.
Zebro is hoping for a good turnout, in part because the exhibition has a relatively short run, and she wants as many people as possible to experience it.
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But she’s also thinking about the big picture, and why the museum chose to spotlight women artists.
“Institutions have a responsibility to correct gender imbalance in the arts.”
"In The Company of Women" officially opens on Saturday, July 7, and runs through Sunday, August 12, in the Steele Gallery. The exhibition is included with museum admission, which is $20 for adults. During free museum hours, the museum charges non-members $5 to see this show. Get details on the Phoenix Art Museum website.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.