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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

Maestras at National Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

It was 1976 when the first international exhibition by female artists took place. Curated by Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin of "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" fame, 'Women Artists: 1550-1950' featured works by 83 artists from 12 countries and toured 3 major American museums.

Forty-seven years later, along comes the Thyssen in Madrid claiming their show is addressing the historical erasure of female artists from art history and that it's a 'culmination of feminist conscience'. Oh really? And, of course, it's a group exhibition because, hey, they are all women after all. Maestras sees almost 100 mostly very good works (some, like the Valadon, are truly exceptional) bundled up in genres, historical periods and themes because why on earth would you provide proper individual context.

I really wanted to like this show, but it fails to hit the mark perpetuating old clichés. For example, in the New Portrayals of Motherhood room all we see are images of mothers tenderly caring for their babies or small children. How's that supposed to create a counternarrative to the meek and passive angel of the house?

I take issue with all-women-artists exhibitions as they do nothing to challenge the canon and increase the artists' ghettoisation (?) leaving them stuck in an eternal sub-category. And, of course, Pollock is right when she claims that this merely archival approach needs to be supported by socio-historical contextualization. In short, do better.

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