Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1959. Image via: markstarkenburg.com
Reacting to the ongoing discussion on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page about the lack of women artists featured on MoMA’s fourth and fifth floors, as well as MoMA Chief Communications Officer Kim Mitchell’s response to commenters, Saltz has written a letter to Curator of Painting and Sculpture Ann Temkin. A copy of the letter, also available on Saltz’s Facebook page, is below.
Friday, June 19, 2009
As I'm sure you know there's been a substantial discussion on my Facebook page (of all places!) about the lack of women artists in the current hanging on the 4th and 5th floors of the Permanent Collection of Painting & Sculpture. By my count (May 10 & 11, 2009) the total number of art works by women is four percent and the total number of women artists, six percent. The new building has been open for four-and-a-half years and the percentages have not yet been higher than this.
I know that the photography department plans an “all woman hang” this year, that you've been rotating work into and out of the 4th & 5th floors, and that the museum is publishing a book on all of the women artists in its collection. I'm also aware that MoMA considers the entire museum (minus special exhibitions) as the Permanent Collection. I don't. And I don't think many others do, either. I think that the Story of Modernism is told primarily on these two all-important floors.
I know you're caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand MoMA should exhibit its masterpieces. On the other it lacks the necessary space to install 'other work' without removing many of the works that are crucial to the Modern. In this economic climate, waiting for the new building to be completed is not an answer. I'm sure you're as eager as anyone to see more work by women on view on the 4th and 5th floors and are aware that this has nothing to do with “quotas” or “fairness,” but rather honesty, openness, and experimentation. I hate harping on this point all the time. I love MoMA. As I've written, “It's the garden we all come from and must return to in order to commune with the ancestors.”
Kim Mitchell was kind enough to give me your email and say she'd bring you up to speed on this on-going Facebook/blog discussion. Even though I assume you're as frustrated with the problem as anyone, I'm sure you'll agree that something has to be done — soon. I've suggested a total rehang on the fourth floor devoted to a condensed period (say 1945 to 1959; although I didn't want it to be just the story of Abstract Expressionism; but that's me). Others have made other suggestions. Regardless, as a number of the commenters have pointed out, if we can try to close Gitmo we can try to close this sad gap at MoMA.
I'd love to know what you think can be done, how to do it, and even when. If responding on Facebook seems too personal and weird, please Ann, feel free to email or call me. As I wrote to you in my private email, I am posting this letter to you on my Facebook.
Senior Art Critic; New York Magazine