Women's Museum of California Art Collection: Spotlight Artistis

by Melanie DelaCruz

        Women artists are actively participating and contributing to the art community. In fact, today 51 percent of visual artists are women. However, despite making up half of today's active artists, women are still being underpaid and underrepresented. In contrast to male artists, women only make about 81 cents per dollar1, and across all art professions make on average $20,000 less yearly.2 Only 30 percent of artists represented by commercial galleries are women3 and in addition to that, women art only makes up 3 to 5 percent of the permanent museum collections in the U.S. and Europe.4

        In the 1960s and 70s, a group of women artists began taking a stand against the misrepresentation and lack of representation of women in the art world and history books. They began to challenge the expectations placed upon women in domestic spaces, the lack of representations in history books, and the perception of being depicted in art as an object being acted upon. Often dubbed The Feminist Art Movement or Early Second Wave Feminism, artists began to reclaim the agency of the female body.5

        In Judy Chicago’s article titled, “We women artists refuse to be written out of history,” where she discusses the motives behind one of her most renown pieces, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979. Considered by most to be one of the first epic feminist artworks, Chicago’s installation consists of 39 individually crafted place setting with name cards for significant women in history. Chicago included women such as Ishtar, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, and Georgia O'Keeffe. In her article, Chicago discusses how during her time in grad school, “macho artists” disregarded any contributions women had made to the artist community or the art history books. This belittlement inspired her to create The Dinner Party, which she describes as “a monumental, symbolic history of women in western civilization.” 6

        In 1974 performance artist Marina Abramović, performed Rhythm 0 in France. Abramović stood in a gallery next to a table covered in objects with instructions that stated: “There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired. Performance. I am the object. During this period I take full responsibility.” The objects included things such as a rose, feather, perfume, honey, bread, grapes, wine, scissors, a scalpel, nails, a metal bar, and a gun loaded with one bullet. During the performance, Abramović’s clothes and body were cut and it was not until an audience member thrust a loaded gun at her head, opposing audience members intervened and demanded the performance to conclude.7 Similar to Abramović, ten years earlier Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, 1964, caused similar reactions. Ono’s performance involved members of the audience cutting off her clothes with scissors, but concluded when a viewer attempted to cut into Ono’s own skin.8 Abramović and Ono began to truly challenge the audience's perspective on the subject of women in art. Other women artists that contributed to this movement were, Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann, VALIE EXPORT, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and Cindy Sherman, in addition to many more.9

        Following the footsteps of a movement that began in the sixties, it is one of the founding principles of the Women’s Museum of California, to not only exhibit local women artists but to also preserve and restore the role of women throughout history. This inclusion and emphasis on women’s role in history and to the art world, has allowed the museum to acquire archives from the first women’s studies program developed at San Diego State University, collections from U.N. Conferences on the Status of Women, the National Organization of Women (N.O.W.), the Older Women’s League (O.W.L.), California Women for Agriculture, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (W.I.L.P.F.), National League of American Pen Women, League of Women Voters, National Women’s Political Caucus, the American Association of University Women, and also Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Care Clinic of San Diego. In addition to this, the museum has personal papers and archival collections from founder Mary Maschal, California suffragist sympathizer Alice Park, Nancy Reeves, Lucy Killea, and Alice Barnes. There’s also an extensive clothing collection and an array of art pieces from California women artists. Of these artists include, painter Laura Simon, Nina Cobb Walker, Terry Vasques and pastel artist Susan E. Roden.

To read more about these artists click the following links:


1 National Endowment for the Arts, Artists and Arts Workers in the United States, (United States, 2011), 10

2 Isaac Kaplan, Nearly $20,000 Wage Gap between Men and Women Working in the Arts, Study Finds, (2016)

3 Jillian Steinhauer, Tallying Art World Inequality, One Gallery at a Time, (Brooklyn, New York, 2015)

4 Judy Chicago, We women artists refuse to be written out of history, (2012)

5 Hal Foster, et al., Art Since 1900: 1945 to the Present , (New York, New York, 2016)

6 Chicago, We women artists refuse to be written out of history

7 Catherine Wood, Rhythm O, 1974, (2010)

8 MOMA Learning, Cut Piece, 1964 (n.d.)

9 Hal Foster, et al., Art Since 1900: 1945 to the Present , (New York, New York, 2016)


David. Art Since 1900: 1945 to the Present. New York, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016

About the Artist.” Nina Cobb Walker. Accessed August 13, 2018.


Museum of Modern Art “Cut Piece.” MoMA Learning. Accessed August 13, 2018


National Endowment for the Arts . “Artists and Arts Workers in the United States.” Arts.gov.

        Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/105.pdf.

Get the Facts.” National Museum of Women in the Arts. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://nmwa.org/advocate/get-            facts.

Kaplan, Isaac. “Nearly $20,000 Wage Gap between Men and Women Working in the Arts, Study Finds.” Artsy.                      Published November 21, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-new-                  study-  finds-women-in-arts-make -almost- 20-000-less- than-men.

Simon, Laura. “I'm Still Here ... a Serialization of Her Memoir by San Diego Jewish World.” San Diego Jewish World.         Published 2006. Accessed August 13, 2018. sandiegojewishworld.com/san-diego- jewish-authors/jewish-                       authors- simon-laura.htm.

KPBS News. “Laura Simon: 106-Year-Old Author Tells Her Story.” YouTube. Published

November 15, 2011. Accessed August 13, 2018. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay8Ns2kH-qw.

Harrison, Donald H. “Laura Simon, 108, Author and Painter, Dies.” San Diego Jewish World.

Published June 15, 2015. Accessed August 13, 2018. www.sdjewishworld.com/2014/06/15/laura-simon- 108-author-             painter-dies/.

Harrison, Donald H. “Matriarch of Literary Family, Laura Simon, near Death” San Diego Jewish

World. Published June 14, 2015. Accessed August 13, 2018. www.sdjewishworld.com/2014/06/14/matriarch-literary-            family-laura-simon-near-death/.

Nina Cobb Walker.” Plein Air Painters of El Paso. Published 2015. Accessed August 13, 2018.


Susan E. Roden, Artist.” Susan E. Roden. Accessed August 13, 2018. www.susaneroden.com/mbr_bio.php.

Theresa Distabile Vaques.” Eulogy. Accessed August 13, 2018.

Steinhauer, Jillian. “Tallying Art World Inequality, One Gallery at a Time.” Hyperallergic.

Published March 27, 2014. Accessed August 13, 2018 https://hyperallergic.com/117065/tallying-art-world- inequality-          one-gallery-at-a-time/

Chicago, Judy. “We women artists refuse to be written out of history” The Guardian. Published

        October 9, 2012. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/09/judy-                  chicago-  women-artists-hi

Women's Museum of California Art Collection: Spotlight Artistis