Interesting article in The Art Newspaper by Julia Halperin in which Los Angeles Moca’s Helen Molesworth explains why the gender imbalance in museums persists and what can be done to remove it.

Here follows an excerpt, read the full article here


Helen Molesworth


In our May print edition, we examine new initiatives in the US and UK that aim to promote female artists—and ask curators, collectors and artists whether such philanthropic endeavours can make a difference. According to research by the Freelands Foundation and The Art Newspaper, female artists in the US and UK receive fewer than 30% of all solo shows at major museums. 

Molesworth spoke with us about why the gender imbalance in museums persists, why we must expand the definition of “genius” and what hard choices institutions must make in order to create a truly balanced programme.

The Art Newspaper: Recent studies in both the UK and the US found that women get around 25% of the solo shows at major museums. Why do you think this disparity still persists today?

Helen Molesworth: People always stay “still today” as if something happened to change the patriarchal system that we live under. As far as I can tell, the patriarchal system is still firmly in place. Since the movement in the early 20th century to get the right to vote, we haven’t had that long a battle in terms of changing the institutions that shape our culture. That’s why the percentages are the way they are—in the Senate and the House of Representatives and Fortune 500 companies. I don’t think the art world has any special purchase on patriarchy.

But people talk about the art world being progressive, a place for ideas—as if it should be ahead of other institutions.

It is a place for ideas and we are a progressive and liberal community, but that doesn’t set us apart from the larger cultural forces at play, which have for the past several hundred years promoted the idea that genius and men and power and money are all very intertwined with one another. Unravelling centuries’ worth of discrimination doesn’t happen overnight, or even within decades.


How do you think things have changed over the past five or ten years? I spoke with the artist Deborah Kass about this, and she said that things have only got worse since art became an asset class.

The rise of art as an asset class has made a lot of things worse for a lot of people—women and men. It’s a low moment in the development of Western civilisation. But I do think some things are better and I think there have been really important shows of work by women. A handful of people around the country make diverse schedules. We could have had this conversation 40 years ago but I wouldn’t have been a chief curator and you wouldn’t have been an editor. That progress is slow and the ascendancy of art as an asset class has only slowed that progress down.

Why should museums open up their ranks?

Two reasons. First, I believe that museums reflect the ideas and values of the culture that they live in, so they need to expose us to all the possibilities and diversity of that culture. The second, more important, reason is because museums in the West are bound up with democracy. The Louvre became the first public museum in the wake of the French Revolution. They help people understand where they come from, where they are and where they might be going. I don’t understand how we can get any better at being democratic if we aren’t making a programme that represents the fullness of human capacity.