Despite anecdotal impressions that museums have cast off the past and begun to acquire work by female artists at a fast clip, a new national study shows that is not the case.
Bucking that trend, though, was the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
The study, conducted by In Other Words. an editorial project within Sotheby’s, and artNet News, an art-market news wire, covered 26 museums as well as auction and market data from 2008 to 2018. It found that only 11% of all work acquired by institutions for their permanent collections was by female artists.
“The number of works by women acquired did not increase over time,” the report states. “In fact, it peaked a decade ago.”
Faring even more poorly, work by African American female artists made up just 3.3% (190 of 5,832) of the total number of female artists whose work was collected by U.S. institutions during the study period.
But PAFA, according to the report, acquired work by women at five times the national rate. PAFA was the recipient of a large gift from Linda Lee Alter of 400 works by women in 2010, which provided a substantial base to build on its holdings by female artists.
In ensuing years, PAFA has actively sought to acquire works by women and people of color.
“We are telling a very comprehensive story about American art here, and women and artists of color play right into it — there are no outliers here,” the museum’s director, Brooke Davis Anderson, told Charlotte Burns of In Other Words and Julia Halperin of artNetNews, who conducted the study.