The Bruce Museum is launching its fall season by presenting a new series of monthly public programs featuring leaders in the field of the arts and sciences. The series, titled “Bruce Museum Presents: Thought Leaders in Art and Science,” will feature artists who often collaborate with the museum. The series was inspired by the fact that the museum wants to continue engaging its members and the broader community while its main gallery is undergoing construction projects, said arts consultant Leonard Jacobs, producer of the series.
The kick-off event on Thursday, Sept. 5 will bring together a group of female leaders in the art world to discuss their experiences with gender and the art market. Moderator Jennifer Blei Stockman, producer of the Emmy-nominated 2018 HBO documentary “The Price of Everything,” will speak with painter and sculptor Nicole Eisenman, conceptual visual artist Lin Jingjing, painter and sculptor Paula DeLuccia Poons and photographer and filmmaker Laurie Simmons. “The Price of Everything” will be screened on Sept. 4 at 6:30 p.m. as a prerequisite to the panel.
“This panel was generated as a sort of follow-up to the screening which raises so many questions about the art world,” said Stockman. “It brings up the issues of how difficult it is to be a female artist and not to be paid on par with male artists. We decided to have a panel discussion that explores this issue with female artists and we decided not to have auctioneers or dealers talk, but the artists themselves.”
Each of the artists included on the panel have created significant work that is gathered by collectors, said Jacobs, and the intention of the conversation is less to ask them how or why they created certain pieces, but how they fit into the larger art ecosystem as a whole.
Given the focus on equity in the arts today, said Jacobs, “We decided … wouldn’t it be interesting to have a group of women representing different generations, hopefully also being diverse and inclusive, to talk about not only their work but their role in contemporary art. Are they treated differently, perceived differently?”
Each of the four artists have a history of involvement in advocacy or otherwise addressing social issues. Former Scarsdale resident Nicole Eisenman, a 1983 SHS graduate, made headlines in July for pulling out of the Whitney Museum’s Biennial to protest the business connections of a member of the museum’s leadership. Eisenman also co-founded the queer/feminist curatorial initiative Ridykeulous. Lin Jingjing’s work itself primarily deals with social-political themes, including the plights of women in different cultures who struggle with patriarchal social norms. Paula DeLuccia Poons and Laurie Simmons have both been fixtures of the art world since the 1970s when female artists faced even more significant barriers and Poons, though a prolific artist herself, is often referenced in relationship to her artist husband Larry Poons.
“Paula Poons, for example, is married to Larry Poons and he’s being recognized in a major way [whereas] Paula is an artist in her own right but has never really marketed herself as much; it’s been all about supporting Larry,” said Stockman. “Female artists who are accomplished in their own rights and equally as talented as who they’re married to often see that the male artist is the one who gets to be famous in their lifetimes when the women often don’t.”
Stockman said she intends to ask Poons if she put her career aside for her husband, and to look back on the history of artists wives and female artists who have looked over at their husbands or the men they went to art school with and seen their male peers’ paintings selling for 10 times their own. She wants to get to an emotional, honest place with the panelists and talk about the plight of watching men with the same level of talent enjoying fame that they’re not able to accomplish, or feeling the need to go by an alias so as not to indicate that they’re female.
Stockman also hopes to talk about the art market, a subject she said many artists like to avoid but one that reflects the reality of the hardships women face in the art world. Though she does not believe the market is any indication of the talent of the artists, the rates women and people of color get for their works, compared to the rates white males enjoy, paint a picture of a culture that still needs to make progress.
“All of the questions should raise spirited discussion,” said Jacobs. “The artists have been asked to even react to the title of the event itself … I think Jennifer is planning to explore the topic in a way that is immediate and visceral and tangible to the audience and I think that’s different than just explanations of the works.”
Stockman acknowledged that some of the things said at the event might not please everyone and might be upsetting at times, but that she hopes for it to be an honest discussion on how far women have or have not come in the art world and an exploration of what still needs to be done.
“There’s nothing in genetics or DNA that makes women less talented as an artist than men,” Stockman said. “There is no disparity between female and male artists, but there has been an enormous separation, especially in the market, and I want to find out why.”