BY TRACEY O’SHAUGNESSY
Photo by JIM SHANNON REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Famed donor decries art world sexism
TORRINGTON — Bias against women artists is “frightening,” and should spur art collectors and enthusiasts to ask “Where are the women?” when they visit museums and galleries, a prominent New York art philanthropist told a crowd of 200 at Five Points Gallery on Friday night.
“It makes no sense that illuminations are lost to us on the basis of gender,” philanthropist Agnes Gund said, noting that fewer than 20 percent of recent solo exhibits in major museums featured women artists and that less than 3 percent of artists who sold works at major auctions were female.
Gund, 77, said the highest price paid for a work by a woman artist was $44 million to Georgia O’Keeffe. For a male, the figure is the $144 million paid for a Francis Bacon triptych last year.
“The facts are dismaying,” Gund said. “Art dealers say women are ‘poor investments.’ They say, ‘they just don’t sell as well as men.’ These seem like excuses. This is all speculation on the basis of sexism.”
A LONGTIME ADVOCATE for women’s issues and arts education, Gund has been a leading proponent of modern and contemporary arts. President emerita of the Museum of Modern Art and chair of its International Council, Gund sits on a number of prominent museum and art education boards.
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ARTISTS: Philanthropist says art world still ‘decisively male’
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In 1997, she received the National Medal of the Arts. Among other philanthropic activities, she founded Studio in a School in 1977 to make up for city budget cuts that nearly eliminated the arts from New York City public schools.
In remarks that lasted about 30 minutes, she spoke of an art world that remains “decisively male” despite a great surge in interest in women artists that developed in the wake of an influential article in ARTnews 40 years ago, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
“Each of us needs to raise the boys and girls in our family to think creatively,” Gund said.
Judith McElhone, executive director of Five Points, said she was inspired to have Gund speak in Torrington after reading her article, “Fame, Fortune and the Female Artist” in the Huffington Post. She said she “thought the topic was important to the general public’s understanding of women’s role in the arts … past, present and future.” She contacted Claudia DeMonte of Kent, a Five Points supporter who knows Gund. Demonte said Gund was “thrilled” to be invited.
“She believes in community and this is such a community-sponsored place,” Demonte said. “I just knew it was a good match. It seemed to be a natural fit.”
Gund acknowledged that bringing the problem of the paucity of women artists to the public’s attention had its risks.
“I was a little hesitant about talking about the problem because I thought it marginalized women,” Gund said. “But until we get to the point where these underrepresented groups of artists are recognized, we are good to do this.”
OPEN SINCE 2012, FIVE POINTS is a nonprofit contemporary art gallery showcasing professional regional, national and international visual artists. Since its inception, its reputation has only continued to increase. In 2013, it hosted Ann Tempkin, the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and a Torrington native.
Having a philanthropist of Gund’s stature speak about a topic that is of great interest to the art world “continues to help elevate the status of Torrington as an art center,” McElhone said.
Gund grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the second of six children whose father made a fortune in banking. After her mother died when she was 14, Gund was sent to Miss Porter’s School in Farmington. She began collecting art in the 1960s and enrolled in Harvard in the 1970s, where she earned a master’s degree in art history.
Her personal collection contains more than 2,000 works, according to The New York Times. They are distributed in her New York apartment and Connecticut home. Most are contemporary works by the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Arshile Gorky, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden and Roy Lichtenstein. She has donated more than 250 works of art to the Museum of Modern Art alone. W magazine has called her Park Avenue apartment “the Grand Central Station of the art world.”
GUND HAS SAID HER FATHER’S INTEREST in American art, coupled with the passion of her art teacher at Miss Porter’s, Sarah B. MacLennan, encouraged her appetite for art. She traveled frequently to New York with an aunt to visit all the museums. In a recent article in Gagosian Gallery, she said, “I went to the Frick Collection so many times that I knew where everything was by memory. I sometimes joke that if I ever go to prison, what’s going to keep me from going crazy is that I have these museums memorized, and I can go through them and see all my favorite things in my head.”
Gund earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Connecticut College and a master’s degree in art history from Harvard University. She also has received numerous honorary doctorate degrees.