Baltimore Museum of Art will only acquire works by women in 2020

Just 4% of the museum's permanent collection is by women.

November 19, 2019, 2:01 PM

The Baltimore Museum of Art said it will only acquire works by female-identifying artists in 2020, part of an extension of its "2020 Vision," a year of exhibitions and programs focusing on contributions by women.

"The museum sees this as an opportunity to extend that commitment while also working to shift the scales within its collections, acknowledging that women artists are still underrepresented in the museum field and within museum collections," the BMA said in a statement. "We hope this will serve as a model and a first step towards better representation within our field."

Of the 95,000 works in the museum's permanent collection, just 4% are by women, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Nationwide, since 2008, 11% of all acquisitions at 26 prominent American museums were of pieces by female artists, according to a joint analysis by "In Other Words," a publication, and artnet News published in September. "In Other Words" is an editorial project launched by Art Agency, Partners, an art advisory firm acquired by Sotheby's in 2016.

"The perception is that there's been much more change than there's actually been," Charlotte Burns, executive editor of "In Other Words" and one of the authors of the analysis, told ABC News.

Many of the museums from which they collected data thought they were making strides in presenting work by women but appeared "shocked" when they learned the low percentages of female artists actually represented, Burns said.

PHOTO: The Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, Sept. 29, 2006.
The Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, Sept. 29, 2006.
Steve Ruark/AP, FILE

"It's been a more emotional conversation about what people feel they're doing than what they're actually doing," she explained. "There's a sense of complacency in that people feel that they're making a lot of progress."

According to the analysis, the number of works by women acquired by the 26 American museums included peaked in 2009 and has plateaued since.

Although Burns has grown less optimistic since studying both that data and data on the representation of African American artists, she said the BMA's decision is to be applauded as it takes an approach for "radical" rather than "gradual" change.

In doing so, the BMA is following in the footsteps of other institutions like the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which sold an Edward Hopper piece for $40.5 million in 2013 and used the proceeds to diversify its collection -- and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

"The only way to catch up with decades of negligence is to be overly aggressive in the present," Christopher Bedford, director of the BMA, was quoted as saying in the September analysis.