Women's Month Feature | Influencing Institutions: Women in the Arts


“The problem as I see it is not just about the exclusion of women but also about exclusions to do with geography and class.” - Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

Influential women working in the arts have more often than not been maligned to a secondary status without much acclaim or as much as their male counterparts. It is an issue that has been raised and addressed in almost every facet of the industry and yet, for some reason the amount of women running our arts institutions disproportionately present to our communities the amount of women active in the field.

With the focus on women’s issues becoming more a topic of conversation for the entire population, it highlights the need to champion those who are working, achieving, and against all odds, exerting an influence on the communities and organizations they run. When we think of arts institutions, we often only think of museums and state run facilities. Although these are without a doubt the more prolific institutions, there are numerous spaces channeling the influence that institutions exert into the realm of women.

As the month of March has become an international celebration dedicated to women and women’s rights, here is a small selection of women that have been making a major impact in the arts and our perceptions.

Manny Farber: “Domestic Movies,” a 1985 bird’s-eye still life by Manny Farber. Credit, Collection of Charles J. Williams and Sharon M. Little, San Diego

Manny Farber: “Domestic Movies,” a 1985 bird’s-eye still life by Manny Farber. Credit, Collection of Charles J. Williams and Sharon M. Little, San Diego

Helen Molesworth

After her media frenzied exit from MOCA in Los Angeles, the art world of the West mourned the loss of a leader in the arts that Molesworth has been a legend in the art world for over a decade, and her work within numerous arts organizations allowed for the fostering and growth of other female leaders following in her stead. Recently, it was announced that Molesworth will be the inaugural curator-in-residence for Anderson Ranch Arts Center. This will be the first institutional position she has held since her departure from MOCA in 2018.

Thelma Golden

Maintaining her #8 position on the ArtReview Power100 for another year, Thelma Golden is the Director and Chief Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. In 1988, she became the first black curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Golden is known for promoting artists in the beginning stages of their careers, and her exhibitions focus in particular on emerging African American artists. Together with friend and artist Glenn Ligon, Golden coined the controversial term “post-black art”, referring to a generation of post-civil rights African American artists whose work, according to them, could no longer be defined in terms of “race” and who felt free to leave behind the label of “black artist”. In 2010 Golden also gave a TedTalk about how art gives shape to cultural change.

Chou Yu-Ling

One of the younger and less well known features on the list, CHOU specializes in the development of visual arts and moving image culture in Taiwan. In 2016, she organized the Meeting point of the Museum and the Moving Images lecture series, which explored the role of moving image practices in contemporary art. In 2017, she curated Hardcore Rally with Hantoo Art Group from the perspective of reconstructing ethos of artistic communities and art history. In 2018 she was named the co-curator of the Taiwan Biennial, Chou currently holds an in house curator position for the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art.

Yu Ping Kuo: “Asleep, Dreaming, in a Feverish Land” 2018. Sound + mixed media installation. Dimensions variable. Image Courtesy of the artist, Michael Ku Gallery

Yu Ping Kuo: “Asleep, Dreaming, in a Feverish Land” 2018. Sound + mixed media installation. Dimensions variable. Image Courtesy of the artist, Michael Ku Gallery

Maria Balshaw

The first female director in history to run the Tate, Maria Balshaw has held the position since June 2017. Although the role positions her in more of an administrative setting, the mission of working with a talented group of colleagues to further Tate’s mission to promote the public understanding and enjoyment of British art, and of international twentieth-century and contemporary art remains at the forefront of her purpose. Balshaw was Director of the Whitworth from June 2006 to 31 May 2017. 
In 2011 Maria took on the role of Director of Manchester City Galleries alongside her duties at the Whitworth.

Claire Hsu

Director and co-founder of the Hong Kong-based nonprofit Asia Art Archive, Hsu has considerably consolidated AAA’s standing among the region’s most influential institutions. Structured around an expanding physical library, it now incorporates a digital library rivaled by no other, residencies, workshops, conferences and symposia that not only document but, increasingly, shape the historical discourse around contemporary Asian art. It continues to fill the cultural vacuum set aside years ago for Hong Kong’s long-awaited M+ museum, while beig prepared to take risks and ruffle feathers. Her influence in the region has been ongoing, and we look forward to seeing where the AAA will take its audiences in the future.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

The current Director of the Castello di Rivoli, Christov-Bakargiev’s long curatorial résumé includes organizing the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, director of the 13th edition of Documenta, Director of Istanbul 2015, and organizing solo exhibitions with Alberto Burri, Ed Atkins, Giovanni Anselmo, among many more. From 2002 to 2008, she was chief curator of Castello di Rivoli, and from 1999 to 2001 was senior curator at PS1 in New York. She has been coined as one of the most influential people in the art world, and has recently been awarded the 2019 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence, ( by the Center for Curatorial Studies). Her untraditional approach to curating and what she considers the curator’s role is something to be admired and dutifully applied by all.

Geoffrey Farmer: Installation view of Geoffrey Farmer’s  Leaves of Grass  at the Neue Galerie at Documenta 13, in Kassel, Germany

Geoffrey Farmer: Installation view of Geoffrey Farmer’s Leaves of Grass at the Neue Galerie at Documenta 13, in Kassel, Germany

María Inés Rodríguez

The Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) in Brazil announced in February that María Inés Rodríguez and Julia Bryan-Wilson have been appointed as adjunct curators for modern and contemporary art. Rodríguez is the former director of the Musée d’art Contemporain de Bordeaux and the chief curator at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. Her departure from her previous role caused much uproar in the industry, with a letter signed by more than 70 prolific art figures being submitted in response. Much like Molesworth she was extolled as a progressive steward of the arts that was unduly let go.

Casey Fremont

Swoon. I have had a serious lady-crush on the Executive Director of Art Production Fund for years. She is without a doubt an influential figure in the art world, and it is her perseverance to continue championing public art installations such as Seven Magic Mountains that makes her an everyday hero, in addition to being what some would call, art royalty. She grew up in New York City's Greenwich Village and graduated from Boston University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Art, majoring in Art History. In September 2009 Fremont Co-curated "That Was Then" at Rush Arts in New York, and in January 2010 Co-curated "Look Again" at Marlborough Gallery, New York. She began working at Art Production Fund in the fall of 2004 and gained the title of executive director in November 2016.