How to Destroy A Cocktail Party, or Create Change

If I were to give you instructions on how to destroy a cocktail party at the Venice Biennial, I would give you a list like the Top 200 Artists and let the hourdes of opinionated art lovers devour each other. Why is Rauchenberg at number 13 compared to Francis Bacon’s number 12 spot?, etc. To offend even further, the artists at the party probably didn’t make the list! You then might smile oilily and ponder aloud why so few woman are on the list? Chaos would ensue.

If you wanted to stimulate such a phenoma online, look no futher than Jerry Salt’z Facebook page, where the art critic for New York Magazine post a short message to his friends questioning the scanty representation (4% !) of women in the permanent collection of pre-1970 art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Thousands of people responded on Facebook. Normally, discussion of top artists is mere cocktail party banter and the Guerilla Girls have seen their heyday, but in this case the social forum of Facebook took things one step further. Here is a discussion more like an online protest against MoMA.

The screen shot captures Jerry posting the following:

Your comments over the last 2 weeks have been truely amazing. MoMA gave its initial response. Next, I’m sending myself to Venice (yes, I pay my own way, D’oh!). Around June 17 we’ll re-engage & ask for a response from the Curator of the Perm. Coll. of P. & S. Ann Temkin. We won’t talk about the entire museum or new buildings. We will say it is time to install A LOT more work by women on 4 & 5 NOW, no matter what.

MoMA had noticed the thousands of comments on Saltz’s Facebook page and the outcry there was enough to galvanize an official response via Facebook!

MoMA had responded to Jerry, per the below, thus opening a dialogue:

Jerry Saltz (New York, NY) wrote on June 3, 2009 at 1:49pm

This is to all of you from MoMA (you all need to ask yourselfs if this is enough; we also have to ask how we also have to ask how many TOTAL works of art MoMA counted to arrive at its figure; and what gallereis were excluded):
Hi all, I am (Kim Mitchell) Chief Communications Officer here at MoMA. We have been following your lively discussion with great interest, as this has also been a topic of ongoing dialogue at MoMA. We welcome the participation and ideas of others in this important conversation.And yes, as Jerry knows, we do consider all the departmental galleries to represent the collection. When those spaces are factored in, there are more than 250 works by female artists on view now. Some new initiatives already under way will delve into this topic next year with the Modern Women’s Project, which will involve installations in all the collection galleries, a major publication, and a number of public programs. MoMA has a great willingness to think deeply about these issues and address them over time and to the extent that we can through our collection and the curatorial process. We hope you’ll follow these events as they develop and keep the conversation going.

To which Jerry adds:

Jerry Saltz (New York, NY) wrote on June 3, 2009 at 2:01pm

A note to all of you: Now is NOT the time to “get tired” or back off. You all have MoMA on the line, right here, right now! Even if you contributed to previous conversations, you owe it to yourselves to say something HERE. Keep it SHORT, direct, and respectful. Artists, this is your chance. Even those of you just ‘listening in… Read More.’ Now is the time. I promisde you MoMA will not PUNISH you (if they do, tell me); it will RESPECT you for speaking up. All 4900 of you need to STEP UP NOW, otherwise …

So a comments section on a Facebook page has gotten the attention of MoMA, and opened a dialogue. This strange public campaign headed by Jerry Saltz, art critic by day, Knight-on-Charging-White-Steed by night, is going to discuss including more works by female artists in the permanent collection and is now trying to plan a letter. God help them, the thousands of them trying to decide on what exactly to say, which sounds near impossible, and, to be cynical, I would be shocked if MoMA actually did anything but talk with them.

Still it is an amazing use of social media as its most vocal, and it is amazing to think what is often idle, angry talk could generate something positive. I hope something comes of it. And all this from the man who doesn’t have a blog because it would be too much work…

3 thoughts on “How to Destroy A Cocktail Party, or Create Change

  1. I’ve been following the Saltz fb thread and truly hope MoMA does take this to heart. I missed the comment on 2 coats so thanks for the link. It is interesting to see the objections to blogging (vs fb) Saltz listed. I just started fb so to me it doesn’t matter too much what platform he’s preaching from. More important is some top 200 lists of women artists. Perhaps then we can discern if it’s the nature of criticism, museum curatorial practices or what it is that continues to confound this issue.

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