Unless you’re new here, you already know that we live and breathe for women in art. Every day, we bring you fresh and juicy ~content~ about all things women in the art world, but most of the time, the focus ends up falling on women artists. But what about the ladies behind the scenes?
Unfortunately, in art like in so many other industries, the top positions are still very much a boys’ club. In the US, women now run 46.7% of museums, but we’re not talking about the Met here. It’s mostly the museums with the smallest budgets. And although real data is hard to come by, something tells me the rest of the world isn’t doing much better, probably much worse.
Bleak stuff, but as the famous saying goes, don’t let the bastards get ya down. Check out these badass and inspiring museum directors proving that women in art can do everything the boys can do—in heels. Or in white sneakers, or in mules, or in chunky military boots. This is 2018, you can wear whatever you want, obvi.
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
On a very chilly February day in 2015, Zelfira Tregulova got the call. Would she like to take the helm of the Tretyakov Gallery, the two-part Moscow museum complex houses more than a millennium of Russian masterpieces? There’s no way she could’ve seen this one coming—the previous director was fired the same day—but who could turn down the chance of a lifetime?
Not Tregulova, a seasoned curator and art historian who previously worked as director of Rosizo State Museum and Exhibition Center in Moscow. She made her career organizing top-notch shows in Russia and abroad, including the Correr Museum in Venice, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Tate Modern in London.
To say that Tregulova’s killing the Director game would be a massive understatement? Slaying, maybe? Demolishing? She took a stuffy museum that couldn’t keep up with the competition (like the Pushkin Museum) and made it the most poppin’ spot on the block. Literally, people waited for four hours in minus 20 Celsius to see a show she organized: Valentin Servon, a late tsarist portrait artist. Even Russian billionaires were waiting in line, just like the plebs.
Valentin Serov, Girl With Peaches (1887), the painting that got Russian billionaires to stand out in the cold without their bodyguards.
With her programming, Tregulova is trying to reframe the conversation around Soviet art. Most people assume that nothing progressive came out of the repressive period. But take a closer look, Tregulova would argue, and you’ll realize that the work is just as visionary as any Picasso or Pollock. Even better, many of her recent shows highlight women artists like Anna Golubkina, Zinaida Serebryakova and even Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna’s watercolors. For a traditional museum in a super patriarchal place like Russia, that’s huge.
Brooklyn Museum, New York City
Anne Pasternak is kind of a big deal on the art-meets-social justice scene. As director of Creative Time, she commissioned artists like Jenny Holzer and Kara Walker to make public art projects that tackle the big “dialogues, debates and dreams” of our time. Casual.
Carolyn Lawrence, Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free (1972). From Soul of a Nation, on view until February 3 at the Brooklyn Museum.
Pasternak brought her radical, provocative spirit with her when she took over directorship of the Brooklyn Museum in 2015. Her programming is anything but conventional, engaging with the pressing social issues of our time. In just three years, she’s put on three shows tackling race issues in America: The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America; We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985; and on now, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. That’s more than some huge museums (not gonna point any fingers) have done in their lifetimes.
La Monnaie, Paris
When La Monnaie tapped curator Camille Morineau for director in December 2016, they knew exactly what they were getting into.
Morineau discovered gender theory when she studied abroad in the US and has spent her whole curatorial career making feminist waves on the French art scene.
She got some much-needed works of female artists into the prestigious collections of Paris’ Musée d’art moderne and Centre Pompidou, where she spearheaded [email protected], an exhibit showcasing all the museum’s womens’ artwork together for the first time (curators at MoMA wanted to do the same thing but weren’t allowed, the story goes).
In 2014, she also founded AWARE, a Paris-based organization fighting for visibility for women artists of the 20th century. Starting to see a pattern here?
So who could be surprised when her first show at La Monnaie, Paris’ money-making HQ and contemporary art space rolled up in one, was Women HouseWomen House? Inspired by Judy Chicago’s 1972 installation, the group exhibition of 40 women artists dives deep into themes of domesticity and the home.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #35, 1979. From the Women House exhibit.
Her work obviously deserves mad props, but especially in France. With all the liberté, égalité and fraternité, any efforts to pay special attention to an identity group gets lots of stern, French “non”s.
Because of this anti-communitarian attitude, any minority rights movements like feminism have to face an extra layer of resistance, not that Morineau lets that get in her way. As long as the public knows more about men than women artists, museums have a duty to rework art history and make it accessible, she told The Cut. Preach.
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Museum of Art might be closed for three years of renovation, but Eve Tam is busier than ever.
While people can’t visit the museum, she’s bringing the museum to the people. Since 2015, the “Museum of Art on Wheels” has been saving kids a bus ride by bringing Chinese antiquities, painting and Hong Kong art to local schools. The museum has also been organizing pop-up events around the city, because adults need their dose of art, too!
A print of Liu Shou-kwan’s Zen Painting (1970), a work by a local artist in the Hong Kong Museum of Art’s collection.
Tam’s curating philosophy bridges the gap between local and global, but with a little twist. Everyone’s talking about globalization, but Tam wants to shift the convo to a new word she coined: lo-bal-isation.
Nope, she’s not suggesting you lowball emerging artists and resell their work for a tidy profit. Actually, she means that we should put the local before the global. When we use art to tell “more personal, humanistic stories,” global audiences can begin to relate to ultra-specific stories. Then maybe it’ll finally start to sink in: no matter where you come from, we’re really not that different.
In that spirit, the Museum planned to create a film, In Touch With Hong Kong Artists, to inspire local kids to get crafty by telling the stories of, you guessed it, Hong Kong artists. Tam hopes it will connect kids with the local art scene, since traditionally, most of their artistic inspiration was imported from the West.
Artist’s rendering of the post-renovation museum.
The Hong Kong Museum of Art is set to reopen mid-2019, bigger and better than ever.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne
How do you go from a traveling clown company to director of Australia’s national museum of film and digital culture? Read on.
Katrina Sedgwick landed her first acting role at age 9 (in Australian classic film The Last Wave) and it was all uphill from there. While the rest of us were shuffling papers around in some windowless intern cubicle, she co-founded the Sydney Fringe Festival, which is just as wacky as the name suggests.
She went on to work on several arts festivals in her hometown of Adelaide before making the leap to the TV world with the Australian Broadcast Corporation. In 2015, she became the first woman Director/CEO of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the most visited museum of its kind in the world.
Under her fearless leadership, the museum was awarded $5 million from the government for a giant facelift. Think reimagining the whole permanent collection and transforming it into a global tourist destination. Just in case you needed another reason to visit the Land Down Under!
Screen Worlds, ACMI’s permanent exhibition of the history of film, TV, video games, virtual reality and digital art.
So next time your parents tell you to stop clowning around and get a job, just read them this little story. All in good time…
Photos via The Moscow Times, Wikipedia, Brooklyn Museum, La Guide de voyage, Gagosian, Art Radar, Asia Arts Archive, HongKong Museum via Art Radar, ACMI