It was a joyous occasion. Hundreds of attendees flooded the large central gallery of the Castellani Art Museum on February 20. Artworks filled the space, as well as two adjacent spaces. Artists proudly led their friends and family to the spots where their works had been placed and there were smiles everywhere. What’s not to like about this? Nothing. It reminded me of a rollicking, jam-packed members’ show, the type often seen in local galleries.
As a former Castellani curator myself (1991-99), I organized many exhibitions by women artists, some group, some individual. These shows were not prioritizing the fact that the artists were women, but that, often, as women artists, they had interesting and illuminating perspectives to express. We equally as often had solo shows of deserving artists who happened to be women. If you look throughout the Castellani’s permanent collection, from the mercurial visions of Cindy Sherman to the stark, text-based prints of Barbara Kruger to the ethereal abstractions of Joan Mitchell, women artists have been active in the art world for decades. They were not always equally represented, to be sure, but this, too, has been amply addressed, by such trailblazers as Judy Chicago, Miriam Shapiro, Nancy Spero, the Guerilla Girls, Kiki Smith, and so many others.
There are many ways a 2020 all-woman show could have gone. A concept would have been key.