August 2019 - October 2019
On page 531 of the 2001 edition of Janson’s Western Art History textbook you can find the following quote: “So far, we have not discussed a named woman artist, although this does not mean that there were none.”
While doing research for an altarpiece I completed last summer, I rekindled my love and interest in Late Renaissance and Baroque art. This meant opening up my old college textbooks and personal library of art historical content. With over fifteen art history courses between my undergrad at Pratt Institute and graduate program at CUNY Queens College, I can’t recall a single professor mentioning Artemisia Gentileschi. Why? My senior thesis was a series of large illustrative portraits of heroic women in my community. Why did no one think to recommend a female perspective to compliment my own obviously female perspective?
In the last few years, I have started to revisit my own experience and the willful ignorance that both my professors and I had about female contributions throughout art history. The mainstream historical narrative had allowed only certain men to define what art was, and its undervaluation of the female experience still greatly permeates our art education and contemporary markets. I became particularly interested in Artemisia’s disappearance. Researching someone so forgotten by history creates a daunting challenge to put the pieces back together. The mystery leaves the door open for multiple and sometimes contradictory narratives and has enormous potential for troublesome exploitation. Groups lay claim, offering speculative truths. Fragments and perceptions lead to questions that may never be answered. Through more research I discovered countless other notable female artists who I had never heard of. I found myself following three distinct paths of artistic curiosity, one leading to my own perception of Gentileschi’s work and intention, one leading me to discover the many other women I had never been educated about, and one leading to the self as an artist.
In the end, I had unknowingly unveiled my own fears of being forgotten like so many other female artists before me. This show became a personal conflict, with an existential ebb and flow. There were many female artists that could have been, or rather should have been mentioned before page 531--it’s just that no one was advocating for them. I hope my exhibition provides another way to record their names, and document their contributions to art history, and maybe through this undertaking, my own name as well.