Signs of Testosterone Poisoning, Exhibit A

"Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness."
This was said in what year: 1600, 1850, 1955, 2008?
Well, probably in all of them, but this particular quote dates from three days ago. "Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it's something to do with bearing children," says British art critic Brian Sewer, er Sewell, in a July 6 feature from The Independent. .
Uh, maybe it has something to do with bearing the brunt of art history as it has been taught, with critics and curators following those teachings, and--I hate to say this--with some women curators so eager for a piece of the androgenic pie that they deny there's an issue.

Not great?

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, shown at the Guggenheim, Bilbao


Not great?

Mary Heilmann, All Tomorrow's Parties, Exhibition View, Secession 2003


Not great?

Anything by Joan Mitchell

Not great?

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes


Jeff Koons, Sacred Heart, on the Met Roof

. .


Eva said...

Oh how long, how long to turn things around?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone take someone like Brian Sewell seriously? Especially after clueless comments like that, how can he even claim to understand artistic quality?

That article in the Independent was rather amusing in how it tied artistic success to auction prices. Last time I checked, auctions were not where you find objective, scholarly criticism, but were home to knee-jerk financially-inspired reactions.

Joanne Mattera said...


It's not that I take Brian Sewell seriously, but that in the 21st century this kind of thinking still exists. It's like saying the earth is flat, or that it was made in six days, or that the universe revolves around it.

The relationship of auction prices to success is a secondary issue for me (not that it's not important, but others can address it). It's the blatant sexism of Sewell's comment, which illustrates how little understanding he has about the way sexism has been institutionalized.

Sewell may be the most awkward and outspoken proponent of the thought, but--and here, auction prices are a good indicator--he's not alone in his thinking.

Eva said...

Well I think the auction records influence what is taught in art history very much. More and more all the time, and not just what's at auction but in the big time art market in general. Koons gets big money and he is being taught. How about Cindy Sherman? She is mega now and not just because of the "iconographic images." It was that big sale to MOMA which sealed the deal. And no one would be talking about Marlene Dumas if it were not for the place she gained in the market.

What does this have to do with aesthetics? Not much really, but it's all in the hands of who is writing (and then teaching) the verdicts and the history. So it ends up mattering very much.

There's a local gallery here which shows excellent work and consistently sells too. But I've noticed that there was always many more red dots for the male artists every single time - and it just kills me.

Nancy Ewart said...

Maybe the fact that "greatness" is often defined by prejudiced men is why there are so few "great" women artists. How many centuries did it take before Gentileschi was known for the great artist she is. How long did it take the art "experts" to correct the many errors in history books about women artists? Most art histories still contain glaring errors and ignore important artists just because they were (are) women. I sure would like to see more recognition of the extra challenges that women face, including dealing with idiots like Sewell who, alas, is not alone in his ignorance and nastiness. Linda Nochlin's essay was written 50 (?) years ago and obviously the fight is now over yet. I should introduce myself - I have been, until now, a lurker and appreciative reader of your blog but this sort of old boys comment makes me see red.

Nancy Natale said...

Your pictures say it all about the greatness of artists who are women, Joanne. That Sewell obviously has his hand in his pants while issuing his edicts. I hope he can find his sceptre because it obviously rules his life.

Joan Mitchell...yay!!!

Donna Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna Thomas said...


I had to chuckle because there are some people who believe the Earth was created in six (or was that seven?) days!

S.A. said...

Hi Joanne,
It is baffling and disappointing that such attitudes and conditions still exist. If we look at it as a manifestation of dogma, it boils down to raw power struggle. And dogma is employed to protect or solidify one's power. History has been a hot topic over on Eva's blog, and I think it ties in to this discussion -- the history gets written by those who have the power and the vested interest in holding on to power. The sorry state of the world is direct evidence that men are still very much in control. As for art -- there is a very big difference in intention between Koons and Dumas, a contrast of power-centered artifice against deep personal exploration. The market has gotten so powerful that it is causing artists to buy into its dogma -- to actually value its power. In reality it seems to be miraculous that artists like Dumas have made such inroads into such a long established structure without really being corrupted. Not to discount Sewell's despicable remarks, but Rush Limbaugh says shit like that all the time -- they feed on the shock value of their pronouncements. It's hard to believe even they believe what they're saying -- they're desperately scared of losing their power.

Anonymous said...

Sigh....I was just checking out (online, because I live in Cleveland) 'Remix: New Modernities in a Post Indian World' at the Smithsonian Nat'l. Museum of the American Indian (NYC.) Their tagline: '15 artists describe what it means to be indigenous through photo, video, painting and sculpture.'
15 MALE artists.
I'd love to get a response from some of the native women artists on this!

Joanne Mattera said...

Yes, history gets written by those in power. But as artists with elecronic media at our disposal, we have more power than ever. That's why JT Kirkland's project, Artists Reviewing Artists, is good (he's "Thinking About Art" on my blogroll), and why John Tallman's upcoming project will be good (he's "Color Chunks" on the blogroll.

It's why we need to write about this stuff on our blogs, comment on it on others (thanks, everyone, for commenting here). It's why we need to write about women artists, and to include our male friends who get it.

And it's a good reason for artists to curate. Not just to get our ideas out into the world, but to make sure those ideas are represented equally. It's a lot of work to make a show that includes women and men in equal measure, that includes artists of varying ethnicities and ages--all while showing work that manifests the curatorial idea. But it's a responsibility. And a pleasure, because there is so much good art outside the box.

S.A. said...

Well-said, Joanne. Thanks.

Joanne Mattera said...

By the way, "s.a." is Steven Alexander, who has a terrific blog in which he writes about many artists of the geometric persuasion, including Helen Miranda Wilson, Anne Seidman, Eva Lake and moi. The actual link in on my blogroll. Here's the URL:

And since we're talking about geometry, Geoform is another great resource. Link on the blogroll, URl here:

Glenda said...

Terrific post. Hits on an area that I have been reading on blogs everywhere lately. I studied about the imbalance when I was in art school and hoped that when it became my turn to hit the real world, things would have turned around. HA! I just returned from a trip to Italy and it was never more apparent how lopsided the art world truly is. I did have the pleasure of seeing Judith with the Head of Holofenes in the Uffizi, the highlight of my trip, Artemesia has always been one of my heroes.

I believe that with the internet being so accessible these days and with blogs of artists who point these injustices out, there is an opportunity to hopefully turn the imbalance around. Keeping my fingers crossed for that to happen.

Anonymous said...

"oh quaw" thats native for take a deep breath

I didn't know that penis envy was still an art form it seems so 90ties

when I lived in Berlin a few years ago you couldn't get a show if you where not an east german female artist or atleast had vagina as a pass port
and shure it made me pissed
and brought out the best of my chauvistic traits but then I remembered my feminine side
and got layed instead
what I am saying is
as of lately art has become like fashion and undergoes trends
so if sexism is still in trend stop buying into it by reaffirming that it still exists
instead get on the fun wagon and humor the band


Joanne Mattera said...

Signs of Testosterone Poisoning, Exhibit B.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the images. They make me also think about how corporate Koons is, and on top of the sexism is the layers of other kinds of value systems so embedded in advanced capitalism.

I love Joan Mitchell.

Anonymous said...

...and, I am still amazed that people argue that sexism doesn't exist in the art world any more, that those of us discussing it are throwbacks, or bitchy, or suffering "penis envy" -

as overused as it is, the old bumper-sticker saying still rings true:

I'll be a post-feminist in post-patriarchy.