Women artists of the past,
Recognition did not last.
For our future we proclaim,
From now on you know our name.
--Women Artists Visibility Event protest song.
Singing "I'm so blue, I wanna show my art to you," about 100 women will stage a protest "performance" against sexual discrimination in the art world on Saturday on the steps of City Hall beneath a 16-foot-tall archetypal goddess, her arms raised triumphantly above her head.
The noon Women Artists Visibility Event (WAVE) is part of a demonstration to be waged simultaneously in 12 cities across the nation.
The Women's Caucus for Art, a national, nonprofit advocacy group, is sponsoring the event to promote visibility for women artists and to draw attention to what it's calling a gap between opportunities available to men and women in the professional visual art world.
"The purpose of WAVE is to dramatize the excellence of contemporary women artists' work," said sculptor Linda Cunningham, WAVE national coordinator, "to call attention to the significant achievements of women artists and to raise questions with major art institutions about their failure to recognize and present this work to the public.
"More than half of the people graduating with master's degrees in art are women. But in the last six years, at the Whitney and Guggenheim museums, for example, only five of 58 solo shows were devoted to women; 53 were devoted to men. So there's something terribly askew at the professional level."
WAVE organizers say protesters' plans include a march with balloons reading "genius has no gender" from the Whitney Museum to the Guggenheim Museum in New York; a gathering outside the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington; exhibits, pickets and a barge ride down Texas' San Antonio River.
Local WAVE participants, all members of the Southern California chapter of the women's caucus, have conducted research to support their charges, as have many other WAVE groups.
"The neglect is at higher and higher levels," said artist Ruth Weisberg, USC fine arts professor and caucus national vice president. "It's now fairly commonplace in Los Angeles for women to have gallery representation, but the problem is with museum retrospective exhibitions, catalogue representation and newspaper and magazine articles about solo shows."
Annie Shaver-Crandell, caucus national president and an art historian, said, "My objection is that the institutions targeted by WAVE are often recipients of federal money. That money is generated from people like myself and I expect it to come back to people like myself."
The local WAVE research, gathered informally from on-site visits, institutions' own records and library indexes, revealed, among other things, that:
--Neither the County Museum of Art nor the Museum of Contemporary Art have ever mounted a major solo retrospective exhibition of a woman artist.
--Between 1980 and 1986 at the County Museum of Art, 11% of all solo exhibitions featured women artists.
--Los Angeles Times reviews of all solo exhibits--written by various Times art reviewers--from January, 1982, to March, 1986, averaged 24% women artists.
--Herald Examiner reviews of solo exhibits--only those written by critic Christopher Knight in the paper's Sunday section--from October, 1983, to April, 1985, were 10% women artists.
Local WAVE researchers also cite a National Endowment for the Arts finding that in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, 33% of professional artists are women.
Artist Carol Neiman, co-coordinator of the local protest, said letters containing all local statistics will be sent to the County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. A Times' reporter read the findings to directors of both museums last week before they had received the letters.
"I don't see that it's the business of the museum to start establishing quotas," said County Museum of Art Director Earl A. (Rusty) Powell tersely. "The issue of quotas is not relevant to an educational institution devoted to quality and to the whole history of art."
Powell said several women have recently been subjects of solo exhibits at the museum, including Eileen Cowan, Barbara Kruger, Maren Hassinger and Wendy MacNeil. He also noted the museum's 1977 group exhibit, "Women Artists: 1550-1950."
Powell acknowledged, however, that "we have not had a major retrospective solo show of a woman artist; that would be true. But the museum has not excluded the work of women artists--the record certainly confirms that fact--and we never will."
Richard Koshalek, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, said, "This is a matter of great concern to us and a subject that plays a part in our decision-making process. We feel there's room for tremendous improvement and we will continue to improve that aspect of our programming."
Koshalek also listed women artists who have had shows at the museum and said that next summer the museum will present a solo retrospective of about 50 works by Elizabeth Murray.
Neiman said local WAVE participants hope to meet with Powell and Koshalek to discuss possible changes in the museums' representation of women artists. She suggested several artists for solo retrospective exhibits, from Georgia O'Keeffe to local artist Betye Saar.
Los Angeles Times art writer Suzanne Muchnic, responding to the statistics, said, "During my career as a critic, the situation has improved for women artists. Their work has become more adventurous, more prominently shown and more frequently reviewed. But our current coverage reflects the shows that are out there; we can't review exhibits that don't exist."
Herald Examiner art critic Knight said, "There's no question that women artists have an extremely tough time compared to male artists. But what bothers me is this approach. It adopts a kind of corporate, bottom-line mentality where you're looking at figures on paper and nothing else matters. It's addressing a cultural reality not through art but through business techniques."
Not all the local caucus' findings were negative, however.
Researchers found that from 1980 to 1986, 44% of all Municipal Art Gallery exhibits, group and solo, were devoted to women artists; that 43% of all shows at the County Museum's art rental gallery (which rents to museum members only) exhibited women artists' work, and 32% of all performance and video presentations from 1983 to 1986 at the Museum of Contemporary Art were women's works.
"There are people in Los Angeles giving really appropriate and significant attention to women artists," said Weisberg, who will deliver a speech Saturday.
Weisberg, Neiman and local WAVE co-coordinator Cheri Gaulke all took part in a similar demonstration at the County Museum of Art in 1981. The trio was part of an ad-hoc committee, Artists Coalition for Equality, charging inequitable representation of both women and minority artists.
"But this time we're focusing on a broader survey," Weisberg said. "We're doing this on the steps of City Hall to represent all of the Southland, not just one museum."
And in 1984, members of the New York chapter of the 14-year-old women's caucus protested in front of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. (The 31-chapter caucus has about 4,000 members nationally--400 in Southern California--united to strengthen the role and status of women in art.) But WAVE organizers say this is the first demonstration of its type waged nationally.
"Our goal is to make people aware that progress has been uneven," Weisberg said, "and to overcome the sense that the issue of inequality for women artists--and minority artists--is all in the past; that the problem has all been taken care of. We have made significant progress, but there is a lot more to accomplish."