Art Talk: What's Hot in the Fall Art Season? White Men

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski) (French, 1908–2001) Nude with Cat 1949 (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum)

Most New York City museums are presenting shows highlighting male artists this fall, from Rene Magritte at the Museum of Modern Art and Robert Indiana at the Whitney, to Robert Motherwell at the Guggenheim and Balthus at the Met Museum.

WNYC's art critic Deborah Solomon is not pleased. "This is an art season that could make you think that the feminist movement never happened," she said.

Solomon explained she is particularly troubled by Balthus' work, which depicts young girls in erotic positions, with cats. "The question is, can the curator of the show, Sabine Rewald, somehow distract us from the creepiness factor and convince us that the aesthetic factor wins in the end?" she asked.

But there are some shows Solomon is looking forward to, namely the Magritte exhibit at MoMa, and the first New York survey of performance artist Chris Burden at the New Museum. "Chris Burden is really edgy. His most famous piece from 1971, "Shoot," actually consists of... he had a studio assistant shoot him in the left arm," she said.

Solomon also recommended "Chagall: Love War and Exile," which opened this week at the Jewish Museum. It presents the dark side of Russian-French artist Marc Chagall, known for painting flying cows and fiddlers.

The exhibit  features several works that Chagall did during World War II while living in exile in the United States. Solomon said his paintings of Jesus are particularly interesting. "He felt really a primal sense of identification with Jesus as a man who was physically tortured to death," she said. "And he seized on him as a metaphor for the suffering of Jews during World War II and the Holocaust."

Solomon asks: Should New York museums give equal time and equal space to female artists? Leave your comment below.


To listen to the whole interview, click on the audio link above.



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Comments [45]

lynda caspe from 1 50 Franklin Street

In late 2013, I tried to contact Deborah Solomon about two separate shows I was having at the Derfner Museum in the Bronx. One show was a show of bronze reliefs and the other a show of paintings of New York City. I brought all kinds of materials over to the Varick Street building was was not allowed entry nor could I leave my materials. Now I am having a one woman show at the Office Gallery of the Manhattan Borough President from April 1-April 30, The Municipal Building, 1 Centre St. NYC, 19th Floor. The show is a show of sculpture, sculptural reliefs and Preparatory Drawings. The opening is April 2, 2015 from 5-8 pm. I hope Deborah Solomon can come or mention the show on WNYC. There will be a catalog. How do I get it to her? Lynda Caspe

Mar. 04 2015 08:10 AM
Jim from All Pionts known

I noticed this shift too in the museums, and now the modern has a Gauguin show,I felt it was the museums reaching back to the artists they promoted in the past, that weren't present in people's minds. That being said I was at a show " common denomenatior " in which all the artists are women but the connection between them was left up to the viewer ,they are all women at differnt stages in thier careers ,mothers, famous ,just starting out... When a chauvinist freind who happens to be a white architect said why is it important to have a show of women artists the curator listed some statics about percentacges of studnts in art school and how that percentage is reflected in who is shown at museums ,his response was "well that just means the women in the museums a re really good," and that they weeded out the bad ones". When you have this type of attitude deceiving itself that what is presented in the museum isn't still shifted to the dormant white male then there is stilll work to be done,as it is still the white male who gets the opertunity first

May. 03 2014 08:04 AM

This is a ridiculous line of inquiry... and perhaps a circumstance/ coincidence about the time-period being covered by these museums.

And, yes, museums should give at least "equal time" to artists, whether they are female, white, black, Hispanic, or anything else. The question posed it as a "white, male artist problem." It's not a problem. It's a circumstance. But, the fact that those artists were white and male is of no moment and gives us very little insight into the New York museum zeitgeist.

Ms. Solomon's observation gives us some insight into her and her priorities as an art critic. It may also give us insight into Ms. Regetao as a producer.

As to "the creepiness factor," it's clear that Balthus has an artistic penchant for young women. Whether that "fascination with girls" amounts to a "sexual perversion" is a judgment call. Maybe that is an easy call for many people, but is it one that Ms. Solomon is qualified to make? A forensic psychologist is called for, not an art critic.

I'd say Balthus' hebephilia/ ephebophilia and his motifs are discomfiting and awkward for most (fully) adult males in 2014, but the boundaries and discomfort it explores is well within his artistic license, whether in 1914 or 2014. Perhaps it is the job of Ms. Sabine Rewald not to distract us from that tension, but to explore it.

For instance, how does it compare with the preening, dancing nymphets on MTV and Bravo?

Jan. 07 2014 08:30 AM
jenny bloomfield

I like your observations Deborah, I am a painter and am part of the SanFrancisco scene. I notice a real lack of support for women in the museums, but a great deal of support from the galleries. Lets not forget that women suffer from age-ism much more than men do.

(by the way! Deborah, are you the same Deborah Solomon who reviewed a show of mine in London back in 1985? For Women's review magazine...If so, thanks again!)

Nov. 12 2013 11:58 AM
mark sadan from ossining, new york

Of course I agree that women should also be shown...but the problems with critics is they often posture
themselves as 'Ayatollahs' telling us what is acceptable and not acceptable...based on that criteria , very little
would be acceptable! all things should be able to be presented via the artist...Diane Arbus spoke of this,
to follow your heart, or passion...if we were to judge art by the artists or the politically correct art as critics
like Solomon postulate from their particular position in time and culture...very little would be acceptable...
so regarding the current lack of women...I do agree...but the authotarian manner and opiniated and often
biased comments of so called 'critics' I often find far more disturbing that the so called 'art' which the critic
is offended by. It is censorshop, implied, idealogical, culture, political and religous that I find offensive,
not the light and shadow, of what all art is about.

Oct. 12 2013 11:13 AM
joan from long island city

Solomon asks: Should New York museums give equal time and equal space to female artists? Leave your comment below.

seems an outdated question in this day & age...but... OF COURSE female artists should be given EQUAL time & EQUAL space. female artists serve as role models and inspiration first and foremost for other female artists and non-artists young thru old and everything in-between. balance. simple as that.

Oct. 07 2013 01:06 PM
Lynne from Colonia NJ

I've been thinking about this for a long time and really, isn't it the same old male fear of women (and therefore beauty) issue that pervades the art market? We have so very many wonderful women artists and they are so under-represented; it's ridiculous and completely undermines any meaningful contribution the market might have been able to make to our culture.

Sep. 29 2013 11:46 AM
Monica from Manhattan

This issue precisely--that women artists have still not received equal
recognition in the art world, or, for that matter, in the study of
art history--was brought up at a book signing just last Tuesday at the
Rizzoli bookstore for Diane Radycki's monograph titled "Paula Modersohn-
Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist" published by Yale University Press.

Sep. 14 2013 03:26 PM
Jeffrey Uslip from NYC

Although men will certainly have a strong artistic presence this Fall, one of the most influential, American, female sculptors will be exhibiting seminal artwork at the pinnacle of New York's academic institutions.

NYU's Institute of Fine Arts is inaugurating its new curatorial program, titled The Great Hall Exhibitions, with the work of Lynda Benglis. Four artworks will be on view, including two historic "pours" from the late 1960s and one influential self-portrait from the 1970s.

In the 1960s, Benglis' subversive artistic practice thrusted issues of sculptural materiality and feminism to the fore. As evidenced by the IFA's exhibition, Benglis' sculptures are as relevant and radical today as they were in the 1960s.

The exhibition will be on view to the public every Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, through October 20th. More information regarding the exhibition and a video of Professors Linda Nochlin and Robert Slifkin discussing Benglis' work can be found here:

Sep. 14 2013 01:08 PM
Karen Archey from New York

Maybe smaller institutions don't fit into your purview, but I've curated an exhibition at Abrons Arts Center which has an overtly feminist theme.

Sep. 14 2013 11:02 AM
Diane Weathers from Manhattan

I was throughly offended by s this show, Twice you referred to female artists as the obvious antidote to the dominance of white male artists, forgetting your history and the art world's history of neglect of African American, Latino and artists of color. Such a narrow and uninformed view of the art world. Quite surprising that such views can still get a hearing in NYC and on WNYC in 2013. As an African American woman who loves visual art and who came of age in this city in the 60s and 70s, the narrow viewpoint expressed made me cringe.

Sep. 13 2013 09:34 PM


Sep. 13 2013 06:36 PM

Right on, Deborah! This is so offensive. I think all the art museums in NYC got together and decided to put on shows to try and reverse all the progress of the female, minority, and gay rights movements. It's an evil time we live in where works by a white male heterosexual could be considered worthy of any sort of positive attention! Let's all boycott these shows to send the racist misogynists that run these museums a message.

Sep. 13 2013 06:34 PM
Terry from Clinton Hill/Fort Greene

What about equal time to BLACK, ASIAN or LATINO artists? Did you ever think of that Deborah Solomon? Geesh, what a narrow view you have. Perhaps WNYC needs to broaden the color of its reporters in order to get a better view of what NYC is really about!

Sep. 12 2013 06:22 PM
Thomas from Brooklyn

The major exhibitions mentioned look at the past - time periods when there were more men than women practicing fine art. Why would we want to revise history to make it look like the twentieth century was a time of equal opportunity? Wouldn't it be anti-feminist to obscure the sexism of the early twentieth century by obscuring the proportion of women to men? This strikes me as knee-jerk criticism put forth in the absence of real insight. There are lots of brilliant art critics out there, maybe wnyc should hire one!

Sep. 12 2013 05:25 PM

I saw the Balthus retrospective a number of years ago at the Museum Ludwig in Köln. I was not put off, as the historical and social context was understandably different from what we take for granted in mainstream American society. Aesthetically, the depth of color and painting that was worked onto these canvas is rich and involved, leaving no question as to whether or not these paintings should be considered important.

Sep. 12 2013 03:21 PM
Doug from Staten Island

Art should be judged on quality, not gender. Anything else is bigotry. Striving for sameness in outcomes is not equality; it is bias.

Sep. 12 2013 03:12 PM
@museumnerd from Brooklyn

Of course they should! At least for contemporary art, but also they should highlight all the amazing art made by women since the 16th Century, like Sofonisba Anguissola ( and Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) ( So many amazing women. They should be represented in proportion that they were making art at the time period the show addresses.

Also. Duh.

Sep. 12 2013 02:02 PM
Zaftig from BKLYN

I consider myself a feminist, and since when is it news that the art and exhibition scene is dominated by men? And yes, Balthus was obsessed with girls and cats, but that's what he's known for, and now he's dead. To me, the best way to call attention to disparity is to seek out and promote talented, emerging female artists, instead of focusing on what's wrong with more mainstream offerings. And why be surprised by "Tumescence"? How is that worse than being shot in the arm?

Sep. 12 2013 01:59 PM
K Webster from NYC

Thanks Deborah Solomon for beginning to state the obvious. Why is it that the art world can't handle that we notice it is still white male dominated? I mean, it's fun to pretend to be progressive but occasionally facts have to intrude.
And please, the rubric of "gee if only there were some 'good' women (and/or of color) artists" is so tired. But you won't find them when you are looking through glasses that only see white men. Women and people targeted by racism grow tired of being looked over, of having to fight this same stupid battle just to get seen. This world was/is rife with astonishing women artists. Elizabeth Murray, Alison and Betye Saar, Joanne Greenbaum -probably among the finest, most interesting artists in the last decades. - there are too many women to name!!
The pretense of an edgy, daring "artworld" is played out - the art world is corrupt, mostly about hedge fund guys and their "tastes" or those who pander to their tastes. Women and/or artists who are not white (especially younger artists) can barely survive in NYC anymore. If this city doesn't figure out affordable housing we cease to be relevant to any real artmaking possibilities.
As to the racism in the artworld? Please. Just look at the stats and it becomes extra clear. Unless you actually believe that people of color (and/or women) are less gifted than white guys?

Sep. 12 2013 12:31 PM

And, so, there are all of these links to the male artists shows, some of which are NOT recommended, but when you talk about all the other memorable, recommended female artist shows coming up, not a link one !!!???

Sep. 12 2013 12:26 PM
alejandroid from New York City

I would recommend checking out artist's Jack Whitten's latest work at Alexander Gray Associates, 508 West 26th Street. Definitely not a white man, and a very "hot", insightful exhibit. Good looking out!

Sep. 12 2013 11:39 AM
John from Washington Heights

I'm not an artist and I don't have a dog in this fight but I'll make two observations: (1) When I first glanced at the Balthus "Nude with Cat" image accompanying the article and saw the ample bosom on the female, I assumed the "young girl" was 18-20 years old. (2) If the portrait is actually of a younger model and therefore "creepy" and borderline child-porn, then why is WNYC and the author of the article promoting it?

Sep. 12 2013 11:33 AM
Jonathan from NY

I listened to the broadcast this morning and was stunned by your double standard [s]..Why does the Gender of the Artist make any difference or make it newsworthy? ..Your Bias and racist mindset against anything 'White male" is beyond the pale and seems to be a page ripped out of the very same hateful book of "Us against them" that you wring your hands over and that continues to divide us.. It's like You are in some sort of bubble that surrounds you with only one voice, and after a time you become unable to hear anything else but your own .. Like a bad Orwell Book, You are the very thing you preach against . Bias Racist and Sexist .. and better than thou" No room for the "other side", especially if it has a penis.. or Balls -shame on you, you "Naked Emperor

Sep. 12 2013 11:30 AM
Jenny Tango from New York City

Solomon is a person calling attention to herself so her upcoming curated show will be noticed by old friends. I'm a woman artist with a history of activism in the Feminist Art Movement and her comments show a lack of knowledge. There are serious issues for women worldwide that need to be addressed but Balthus is not the problem nor is the world of art.

Sep. 12 2013 11:28 AM
RJ from Manhattan

As an art historian and curator, I found this morning's commentary to be shallow and not up to par for Ms. Solomon's level of art historical knowledge. Is it not possible to present a feminist critique of Balthus' work, especially at an institution like the Met? Could one not place the artist in his historical moment, and force us viewers to consider the so called 'period eye' -- in other words put ourselves in the shoes of those who viewed these works in the past? An exhibition is not simply about who gets shown, but the questions that the curators force the audience to confront.

And, per the conversation about Magritte: as he is also a white, male, artist (from the most dominant of the sexist movements, Surrealism) why does he get a pass? Magritte's "The Rape," a painting of a woman's face where the eyes and mouth are replaced by breasts and genitalia, makes Balthus seem tame by comparison. (The work Ms. Solomon discussed this morning was "The Lovers" not "The Kiss" I believe).

I do agree, we need more women (and other underrepresented artists) shown all over. However, it does not seem useful to denounce what is up -- instead it might be fruitful to consider how we can understand what is being shown for different perspectives.

Sep. 12 2013 11:17 AM
orazio jacob from brooklyn ny

wnyc and certainly brian Lehrer do politics well. But you apparently do not have an art critic. this is laziness and bourgeoise in the extreme... meaning the critic is not using her eyes, except to read a press release maybe. there isn't even anything here that one could call art criticism. please wnyc, get informed, read the nytimes' chief art critic Roberta Smith or Karen Rosenberg or Carol Vogel and start to learn the basics of what is at stake in actually looking at a painting, drawing, performance, or what have you. If anything more than a PG13, comforting and progressive experience is intolerable, let me recommend Norman Rockwell. He's pretty good. Better do not look at the work of Dana Schutz, Maria Lassing, Lisa Yuskevage, Rose Wylie or countless other women artists, you wont get it.

Sep. 12 2013 11:12 AM
Paul Schaefer from Clinton Corners

I agree with Solomon on Balthus, and I don't think his aesthetic factor outweighs his creepy factor. But what about Burden? Is it not creepy to shoot oneself in the arm? And does edginess outweigh both creepiness and aesthetics?

Sep. 12 2013 10:59 AM
Deborah Solomon

Thanks for the reminder, Alex Stirton -- I am very much looking forward to "Designing Modern Women," which opens at MOMA on October 5. See you there!

Sep. 12 2013 10:07 AM
Alex Stirton from New York

Deborah Soloman's criticism of the Fall art exhibitions is well made, but it would have more substance if she ventured into the design galleries at many museums. This Fall, MoMA is devoting the entire design gallery to "Designing Modern Women", an exhibition that will showcase women as both designers and muses.

Sep. 12 2013 09:43 AM
Jeffrey from NYC

Solomon asks: Should New York museums give equal time and equal space to female artists?

No, they shouldn't New York Museums should select artists based on the quality and significance of their work and not their gender.

Sep. 12 2013 09:38 AM
Ann from NYC

Feminist though I am, I found Deborah Solomon's criticism to be terminally stupid. It may well be that female artists are under-represented in our culture but the criticism leveled at the male artists on display demonstrates the power of mindless pc ideology over serious thought. I'm particularly incensed over Ms. Solomon's characterization of Balthus' paintings. The Met had a retrospective of his work some 20 or 25 years ago and I--and other female friends--were astonished and thrilled with his work. The only women I knew (and some men) who were revolted by it, were those who had never been the mother of a female adolescent. Anyone who believes that a 12-year old girl is not a sexual being is in serious denial. The report was an embarrassment, and not worthy of being broadcast on NPR.

Sep. 12 2013 09:36 AM
bernie from bklyn

and those horrible, misogynist jazz clubs here in nyc....the majority of the shows at the village vanguard and smalls are creepy, jazzy, male musicians making their pervy improv sounds while the women wait outside, neglected by the bookers. ah....things will never change....

Sep. 12 2013 09:29 AM
Deborah Solomon

Hello art lovers! Thanks for your comments. I especially appreciate the wise & supportive words of Esther Kirshenbaum, Jane Summer from Arsdley, Rachel from NYC, Andrea from Brooklyn and Jean Mensing.
I didn't have time to mention on the air that a new group show at the Michael Werner Gallery on East 77th Street is entitled "Tumescence." Can you believe it? He might as well have called the show "Erection"!

Sep. 12 2013 09:28 AM
bernie from bklyn

is ms.regatao in 8th grade? what is this article? the first two, small paragraphs are a nonsensical criticism of this fall's season by nyc art museums. then, performance art involving gun shots to live humans and chagall? were you drunk when you wrote this?
art should be showcased based on gender and not quality? this is asinine and any real artist, who happens to be female, wil tell you the same.

Sep. 12 2013 09:24 AM
Esther Kirshenbaum from Brooklyn, NY

The gender observation is not surprising. Being a female artist has always been frustrating. Now that I'm ancient (63), it is hopeless to imagine being in a museum venue.
It just reflects the usual bias in our culture's artificial natural selection. You know, male dominated and sexy youth. At least in art I thought content would be the guiding light, but no.
At least now with a gender neutral name and omission of the number of lived years, one can get work seen on line.

And yes sure give women equal presence in museums.
We do that in athletics at major universities, why not in the arts in museums?

Sep. 12 2013 09:13 AM
Douglas from NYC

As usual WNYC decides to politicize everything, including art. Can we say National Puking Race-Baiters? If you can paint as well as Balthus you can criticize him but throwing your feminist/race-baiting garbage sets a dark tone for my morning and forces me to turn WNYC off. Spend more of your time reviewing talentless people like Kanye West so you can turn your listeners off. Goodbye, Click!

Sep. 12 2013 09:10 AM
David A Ross from Beacon, NY

Another ill-informed piece by a critic unworthy of WNYC. Balthus characterized as a perv? Could we get a more low-level criticism? Bean-counting as a critique of male-centric museum programming? Come now. The fact that the start of one season in NY Museums features a string of shows by men does not even touch the real issue of the difficulty of being a woman artist in NYC. And characterizing Chris Burden as a performance artist? He was never a performance artist, hasn't created an action since the mid-70’s, and is actually a unique sculptor dealing with ideas of engineering, scientific experimentation, and a child-like sense of wonder. "Shoot"was an important work, as we're many of his works at that time, but the reason Burden is having a survey show at the New Museum is precisely because his work as a sculptor has influenced several generations of artists, and because know-nothing critics like Solomon are too lazy to write about art in a deep or meaningful way. WNYC should treat visual art with more respect, or if they can't spare the air-time for serious criticism, then ignore it. Please.

Sep. 12 2013 08:56 AM
Jane Summer from Ardsley

I've been waiting for someone to notice! This, of course, not only leaves artists (who are not white men) out in the cold, but it distorts the definition of our culture and, I'd go so far as to say, promotes the subjugation of women in particular as blank canvases for white men's continued projections, and women remain commodified ad infinitum.

Sep. 12 2013 08:55 AM
Jean Mensing from NYC

It has been so long since there was an exciting exhibit of a female artist. The shows of Elizabeth Murray and Lee Bontecou were so revelatory. and still resonate with me. I'm looking forward to all the new "big" shows with men again because they are interesting but surely some women lurk out there too.

I really like the idea of "WOMEN OCCUPY ART SPACE". Remember the Gorilla Girls???


Sep. 12 2013 08:50 AM
Dan Phiffer from Brooklyn

I've sometimes wondered how the statistics from Guerilla Girls' 1989 campaign "Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum?" work out if you were to tally up the works in the galleries in 2013.

Sep. 12 2013 08:47 AM
Maanik from Brooklyn

The International Center of Photography Museum is presenting a large solo exhibition of Zoe Strauss works. She is not a white male. : )

Sep. 12 2013 08:45 AM
Andrea from Brooklyn

Absolutely!! And in fact I think they give women more than 50% to make up for all the years that we have been misrepresented.

Sep. 12 2013 08:45 AM

Who is the feminist that will begin the ...Women Occupy Art Space...movement?

Sep. 12 2013 08:02 AM
rachel from nyc

Hi Deborah-
I completely see your observation, and going a bit further, if you look at the fall line-up of gallery exhibits throughout NYC, the same pattern of maleness continues. I think in the case of museums, curators are a bit limited by circumstances - they have boards, directors and a thirsty public to please. Very sadly, the bulk of many museums' holdings are in male art. I think that going forward perhaps dealers and gallery owners should take the charge and elevate (both physically and financially) female artists, giving them more space and ultimately, more buzz. It's very frustrating.
You mention Ileana Sonnebend - yes, she was certainly a central figure in the NY art scene, but I can't think of one woman she represented.
Thanks for talking about the elephant in the gallery space!

Sep. 12 2013 07:16 AM

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