By Edith Hillinger

Guerrilla Girls Kate Kolwitz was recently quoted in Art Ltd magazine. “The art world is controlled more and more by billionaire collectors who sit on the boards of museums and auction houses, exerting undue influence, and skewing what is being preserved for the future. If things continue like this, a hundred years from now museums will be showing only the super-expensive white male version of the art of our time, with a few tokens thrown in. We need to make sure that museums cast a wider net and collect the real story of our culture.”

While exhibition opportunities have increased for women, saving their life’s work after they die has not become any easier. The demand for an artist’s work, how well she is represented in museum collections and her sales and auction prices has a direct impact on an artist’s ability to preserve her legacy.  

Even among the best known artists with international reputations, women lag far behind their male counterparts in creating foundations that will care for their legacy after their death. The Aspen Institute published a study of all Artists’ foundations in the United States. According to their report, 70% of all artists’ foundations in the United States are created to handle the legacy of male artists, 20% of the foundations handle the legacy of women artists and 10% deal with the legacy of couples who were both artists.

For artists’ foundations to be viable they must be properly funded to carry on the work of caring for the artists’ legacy and there must be interest on the part of museums and collectors to acquire the work of the artist. These conditions are difficult for women to meet since they make a lot less money and since museums and public institutions less collect them.

Seeing that it will continue to be nearly impossible for women to create individual foundations in the near future, my thoughts have turned to creating collective legacy foundations for women. Collective legacy foundations, in partnership with existing regional art organizations, can play a major role in saving to the legacy of women artists. The BAWA Legacy project is working to bring about a partnership with local art institutions that can begin to address the problem of women artists being erased from art history. Those looking back 100 years from now will no longer see an all white all male art history.

Bay Area Women Artists Legacy Project (BAWA Legacy Project) now has more than thirty members who each have more than 20 years of studio practice. The group is currently engaged in creating a website. Each woman will have a page with 5 images of her work and a statement about her work and her feminist history. The introductory page for the website will be written by a writer familiar with feminist art history.

With the website in place, the women will start meeting with curators from various local art institutions such as university art museums, college art museums and other local museums. We hope to partner with an institution that sees the value of preserving women’s art legacy and will want to house, exhibit and make available for research the work of these women artists.

We hope this solution to save the work of women artists will one day no longer be needed when women are represented in museums and public collections in equal numbers and their sales prices at auction houses are comparable to the sales prices of male artists.