Museums are the arbiters of art history: they tell the world which art is worthy, whose work deserves visibility and what deserves to be hung in the galleries of history. That’s a lot of power, and that power should be (but has not been) used responsibly.

The MoMA has long been a prime example of how that power can be misused. The pieces they have show and the way in which they have shown them has portrayed a narrative of art history that is overwhelmingly male and european.This has exiled the perspectives of a myriad of voices into the margins of art history. There are two elements of museum organization that contribute to this inequality of representation: the demographic breakdown of museum collections and how pieces are displayed.

The first problem is one of optics and is clearly demonstrated in works such as Pussy Galore’s 2015 “Report Card.” This piece shows of all the artists represented by each gallery what percentage are women. The report card grades 34 of New York City’s premier galleries, and of the 34 galleries graded, only 13 of them broke the 30% barrier.

This is problematic because it reduces the public’s exposure to different artistic and social perspectives. The inability to find women’s art in galleries or museums perpetuates the false notion that women don’t make gallery or museum-quality art — thus robbing people of the experience of getting to see bomb ass shit.

The second problem is more nuanced. The paintings you see and how you see them shape your experience of art as a whole. If the first piece you see when you walk into an exhibit that is supposed to contain the “best art in the world” is a Gorgon-esque distorted female form, your attitude toward female forms for the rest of your time in the museum, and possibly outside of it as well, will be affected by that for the worse. This is exactly the case with Willem de Kooning’s Woman I at New York’s MoMA. “The MoMA’s Hot Mamas,” written by Carol Duncan, is a wonderful paper that whole heartedly communicates this point if you want to dive deeper into how the problem of presentation reveals itself in museum spaces.

This summer, The MoMA has the opportunity to rewrite art history and finally include the experiences of the forgotten, overlooked, and historically ignored. MoMA will close down for four months to reevaluate whose art it displays to the world and how it displays that art.

Ann Temkin, the MoMa’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, has stated “The chronology will be expansive because chronology isn’t as neat as you think. Figures that once seemed secondary will now seem primary.” So, just as The MoMA has served as an example of how problematic museums currently are, it now has the chance to serve as a positive example of what museums can become.

The MoMA can widen the narrow lens through which we, the museum goers, have been exposed to art forever. MoMA’s redesign should serve as the long overdue relaunch of museums as the vehicle through which we consume a variety of world views and life experiences. If MoMA is sincere in its claims and aims to tackle the problems of representation and viewership, I have no doubt that the new MoMA will be one of the most revolutionary establishments in the contemporary art world.

-Lucas Cowen


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