Letter to the NY Times – in response to “Female Artists Are (Finally) Getting Their Turn” written by Hilarie M. Sheets
We, the members and staff of SOHO20 Artists Inc. would like to formally address the recent NY Times article Female Artists Are (Finally) Getting Their Turn written by Hilarie M. Sheets, published on March 29, 2016.
Our initial reaction to this and other similar articles, is one of celebratory triumph. We read it, ‘liked’ it, and shared it on our social media platforms. Then we looked at it a little deeper, and wondered: where are all the other groups and organizations that have been working steadily through recent years, decades, centuries – through the backlash, when conversations about women and (other identity politics) were not in vogue?
We are not trying to steal the spotlight, rather, in the spirit of the artist-run projects, are taking credit where we feel that credit is due. We, an autonomous art organization, democratically controlled by our members, were originally founded in 1973 as an alternative. The original SOHO20 members envisioned a world where women artists could create continuing and sustainable ways to show and support other women artists in a landscape that wouldn’t have them – not because of the quality of work, but because of their gender.
Forty-three years later, SOHO20 is still doing just that. SOHO20 and the numerous other women’s galleries and collectives should be commended for starting when they did, sticking it out, and living through a plethora of difficulties and setbacks, both cultural and economic. SOHO20 has functioned and continues to function as a means of empowerment for its artist members, through mutual support, allowing for their work and artistic process to flourish in a way that most commercial galleries do not encourage. Many people who visit the gallery are not aware of the fact that it is an all women’s organization, until of course, they read about it. This, for many of us, is a wonderful way to be included in the art world without initially calling attention to the fact that we are women.
Along with this is our criticism of the continued usage of the term ‘Art World’ in all of its splintering factions, as only encompassing conversations about commercial galleries, the art market, and the largest of institutions. What about the women’s collectives, cooperatives, small-scale, and artist-run endeavors? These unaffiliated groups and organizations may not be making big sales and headlines, but they are very much a part of this world.
As in many other microcosms, the role of women in the art world has always suffered from the male establishment protecting its territory. Change is so slow and incremental, but often follows other changes in society at large. We are now in a moment to revel in this conversation, which is never big enough, but also bigger than it was.