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In 2018, female artists finally outnumbered men in L.A. museums' solo shows

In 2018, female artists finally outnumbered men in L.A. museums' solo shows
Laura Owens, "Untitled," 2000, acrylic, oil and graphite on canvas (MOCA)

For the first time in memory, considerably more women than men had full-scale solo exhibitions, whether retrospectives or more focused surveys, in Los Angeles art museums this year.

In fact, at 11 to six, there were almost twice as many. Add in smaller installations and project shows, bringing the total to 41 women artists’ presentations, and 2018 is a year when the city’s art museums reached gender parity in solo exhibitions overall.

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The tally comes from adding up exhibitions, both major and minor, that opened since January at the J. Paul Getty Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art; UCLA Hammer and Fowler museums; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Craft and Folk Art Museum; California African American Museum; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (With zero, LACMA was the unfortunate outlier.) That’s impressive.

The striking numbers resonate with two important pieces of news in recent months.

Led by the Los Angeles Conservancy, the city in June designated the Woman’s Building a Historic-Cultural Monument. The Woman’s Building, dubbed “the capital of cultural feminism” by esteemed art critic Lucy Lippard, operated between 1975 and 1991 on North Spring Street near the L.A. River overpass. Founded in temporary digs in MacArthur Park two years earlier by artist Judy Chicago, designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and art historian Arlene Raven, together fed up with art by women being institutionally slighted, the facility offered a base of operation for exhibitions, political organizing and educational outreach.

Forty-four boxes of Woman’s Building archives went to the Getty Research Institute last year. Then, in September, the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded a $284,400 grant to the GRI for conservation of the archive’s posters, announcements, manuscripts and program records, as well as thousands of photographs. More than 250 videos include event documentation, oral histories and works of art.

Also included are records from several groups spawned at the Woman’s Building. Performance art was a mainstay for Sisters of Survival, Feminist Art Workers and the Waitresses. Everything from comedy routines to consciousness-raising was on the progressive agenda.

The grant program is part of Save America’s Treasures, a critical conservation project launched almost 20 years ago by the National Park Service. The GRI will give special attention to digitizing audio recordings and more than 40 film reels, their magnetic and acetate materials being among the most fragile parts of the holdings. Work began this month.

Given the stunning November elections, when record numbers of women were successfully on ballots for U.S. Congress and statehouses from coast to coast, the 2018 exhibition tally at L.A.’s art museums is right in step. The trick now will be to keep the momentum going.

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