Arts

Get Ready to See More Work by Women Artists at the MFA

For Women Take the Floor, the MFA is dedicating the third level of the Art of the Americas wing to the work of women artists.


She, Lorna Simpson (American, born in 1960), 1992, Photograph, dye-diffusion photographs (Polaroid prints), and plaque. Ellen Kelleran Gardner Fund. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

What do John Singer Sargent, John Singleton Copley, and Winslow Homer have in common? All are painters, all are featured prominently in the MFA’s “Art of the Americas” wing—and all are white men.

A lack of representation for marginalized groups in art museums is a pervasive problem, but the MFA is making a marked effort to address it. Starting September 13, level 3 of the Art of the Americas wing will see an installation called Women Take the Floor, an effort that “challenges the dominant history of American art by focusing on the overlooked and underrepresented work and stories of women artists,” the museum’s website reads.

“Our goal was to broaden the stories that are told during the yearlong commemoration of women’s suffrage in 2020—celebrating well-known female-identifying pioneers and innovators while also highlighting the achievements and stories of overlooked and underrepresented artists,” says Nonie Gadsden, leader of the project.

There will be more than 250 works included in the “takeover,” representing more than 100 female artists. The team behind the exhibit—a cross-departmental lineup of six curators and three research assistants—carefully chose a lineup of artists including African American, Asian American, Latin American, and indigenous women.

The art, primarily drawn from the MFA’s collection, is organized around several common themes. There’s “No Man’s Land,” a gallery devoted to artists’ reimaginings of landscapes, and “Women Depicting Women,” a space featuring images of women created by women, like Frida Kahlo’s Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia). There are also several galleries that feature alternative media, like “Beyond the Loom,” a fiber art gallery, and “Women Publish Women,” which spotlights three women who helped revitalize American printmaking.

Prior to Women Take the Floor, the third floor of the Art of the Americas Wing featured the exhibition Frida Kahlo and Arte Popular, as well as a special installation of photos of Frida Kahlo’s bathroom by Graciela Iturbide, both of which closed in June. Other installations on the floor featured a variety of works in different 20th-century media created by men and women artists.

To the Women Take the Floor team, the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage is worthy of celebration, but the team also hopes that the new exhibit will call attention to how far the feminist movement still has to go, particularly with respect to women of other marginalized groups.

“The passage of the 19th Amendment was an important feminist milestone that nonetheless failed to extend the vote to women of color, poor women and other marginalized groups,” Gadsen says. “We felt it was important to mark the anniversary of women’s suffrage by questioning how museums—institutions that have perpetuated a white-, male-dominated history of American art since their inception—can advocate for diversity, inclusion and gender equity today.”

Sept. 13-May 3, 2021, Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., mfa.org.