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Culture & Artsby Brew Editors5:31 pmJan 23, 20210

A critical look at the BMA’s year of acquiring art only by women

Purchasing works by just 49 women artists, only three of whom are based in Maryland, is “abysmal,” argues BmoreArt editor Cara Ober

Above: Sculptural and painted works by Valerie Maynard at a 2020 solo show at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Cara Ober)

When the Baltimore Museum of Art scored national attention with its announcement last year that it would collect only art by women “to rectify centuries of imbalance,” BmoreArt editor-in-chief Cara Ober was delighted, but also made a note to follow up.

What pieces would they acquire? Would local artists be included? And would the acquisitions make a dent in the BMA’s collection of approximately 95,000 objects, which continues to hover around 96% white and male?

The answer to those questions so disappointed the founder of the regional arts and culture magazine that she unleashed more than 3,900 words Friday to explain why.

In a December press release, she noted, the BMA reported that it “spent $2.57 million, adding 65 works to the collection by 49 female-identifying artists.” That struck her as a paltry amount.

“I expected the results of this initiative to be dramatic and impressive, with a much greater number than 65 works of art total, given the historic exclusion of women artists and the lofty rhetoric about radicality and social justice,” Ober wrote.

Ober wondered “why they didn’t collect a lot more art by women at lower price points – the average 2020 price is $40,000 per object – and why they selected so few Baltimore- and Maryland-based artists.”

So how many of these artists were locals?

Three, it turns out: Joyce J. Scott, Valerie Maynard and Oletha Devane.

And how much did the institution, which receives millions of state, city and private philanthropic dollars, as well as a recent infusion of deaccessioning proceeds – spend on these local art works?

Probably about $35,000, she estimates.

Acquiring only art by women for a year was part of the Baltimore Museum of Art's

Acquiring only art by women for a year was part of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s “2020 Vision” program. (artbma.org)

Read the full piece to see if you think Ober makes her case. Or just read it for her sizzling take on the art world she’s covered in Baltimore for more than a decade, which includes this pungent observation:

Perhaps I just don’t understand the economics. After all my years of research, the global art market still appears to me as an expensive mirage, a bejeweled Cartier snake with giant emerald eyes chasing its own tail – a conga line of wealthy folks in asymmetrical linen pants and funky glasses who are constantly looking away to the next big thing, constantly traveling and unaware of the incredible, world-class art being made right here, right now.

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