“Trailblazers: Women in the Arts” at The Brooklyn Museum
By Helena Calmfors
Trailblazers: Women in the Arts, an annual celebration of women making an impact on art and culture, took place on October 20. The award ceremony is part of A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. This year’s honorees included Sarah Arison, Lowery Stokes Sims, Miyoung Lee, Ellen Gallagher and Janet Mock.
The awards program consisted of moderated talks with each of the honorees on topics relating to their work in the art world. Miyoung Lee, art collector and trustee of the Whitney Museum, talked about her first epiphany around an artwork. Lowery Stokes Sims, retired curator of The MOMA, then spoke about her favorite projects followed up by artist Ellen Gallagher that provided an in-depth discussion about some of her pieces. Sarah Arison, president of the Arison Arts Foundation and trustee of MoMA PS1, talked about the importance of institutions taking responsibility in supporting emerging artists by giving them the room to experiment. This, she argued, is something that is missing today for young artists graduating from college. Finally, author Janet Mock discussed the isolated work of writing, and the importance of writing yourself into history (or herstory). Even thought the topics of the talks were varied, they all relate to the ever-important subject of how to create equality and inclusion without ending up just creating a separate, female, art world. This year’s honorees have all proven how they are changing history by being successful in various fields. Therefore they are, as Janet Mock mentioned, creating room for themselves as well as other women to write themselves into art history.
A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism also kicked of with their first of 10 exhibitions, Ruins and Rituals, featuring a comprehensive exhibition of Beverly Buchanan’s work. The exhibition includes sculpture, painting, photography, drawings, artist’s notebooks and video installation of Buchanan’s site-specific earth-works. Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015), best known for her shack sculptures present at one of the galleries, explored relationships between memory and place in her artistry. Focusing on formal structures, such as walls, houses and memorials, she questioned the writing of history and who is chosen to be commemorated and why. This is a very fitting first exhibition of A Year of Yes next to the center’s permanent installation of Judy Chicago’s dinner table and the Herstory Gallery, educating visitors of women in art history that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.
Creating equality within the arts, or “equal pay, equal wall space” as Elizabeth A. Sackler worded it, requires us to look both at the past and the present. To change an existing structure it’s important to bring awareness to women that have been overlooked in the past and reevaluate a history that has been written by men. It’s also just as important to make sure that the conditions under which women are working today are providing equal opportunities and merit. Trailblazers: Women in the Arts together with the Brooklyn Museum and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art are providing a foundation for moving forward to a more inclusive art world by tackling both historical and contemporary issues and thus changing the circumstances for women in the arts.