According to a survey by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 87 percent of artists in U.S. museum collections are male. And only 27 percent of major exhibitions worldwide are devoted to women artists. In this, the 100th anniversary year of women’s suffrage in the U.S., the New Britain Museum of American Art is bucking that historical trend by celebrating some of the country’s foremost female artists whose work promotes action and social empowerment. In a year-long initiative that was extended into 2021 due to COVID-19, 2020/20+ Women @ NBMAA, the museum is mounting seven exhibitions devoted exclusively to women; five focus on solo artists and two are thematic group exhibitions.
“Our initiative challenges this underrepresentation by celebrating the innovative work and outsize impact of female-identifying artists throughout American history,” says the museum’s director, Min Jung Kim.
One of the group shows is Some Day is Now: Women, Art & Social Change, on view Oct. 1-Jan. 31. The exhibition boasts striking imagery and text-based works from more than 25 artists, including Yoko Ono, Jenny Holzer, and the Guerrilla Girls, who combine language, text and images to convey hope, advocate change, raise awareness, and express their beliefs. The artists exemplify diversity, from their race and backgrounds to perspective and careers.
Lisa Hayes Williams, the museum’s associate curator, says the exhibition explores the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. and the ongoing fight for women’s rights and social equality. “The show traces historical events of the last century and the visual media that has emerged in response to — and, at times, rejection of — social, political and cultural conditions of the time,” she says. “It also attempts to link the past with the present, by exploring common visual strategies used by members of the women’s suffrage movement and contemporary artists alike, to raise public awareness about societal problems and inspire conversation, action and change for the better.”
Many of the artists featured are personal favorites of Williams and all have made significant contributions to visual culture and social change. “These artists are remarkable for their innovative and pioneering works, and for fearlessly challenging the status quo throughout their careers,” she says.
Williams says she is “thrilled” to feature the work of Ono, who has created experimental art since the ’60s. Ono’s interactive artwork, Wish Tree, is her open invitation for audiences to write their own wishes on small tags that the writer then hangs on the live tree — a kind of living monument to one’s dreams, big and small.
The exhibition spans decades from historical ephemera such as a suffragist “Votes for Women” pennant to Betye Saar’s Liberate mixed media assemblage of 2015.
Women artists’ woeful representation in the art world and museums is referenced in the artwork of the Guerrilla Girls, the anonymous, guerrilla-mask-wearing New York City-based collective. This deficit has also not escaped the exhibition’s curator. “Inequality is so deeply and systemically ingrained, it will require ongoing institutional change, and champions to uphold that change, for women to establish equal footing in the art world as their male counterparts,” Williams says.
Some Day is Now: Women, Art & Social Change
On view Oct. 1-Jan. 31
New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St.
Tickets: $10 through Oct. 31 (members free, children under 12 free)