In the mid-1980s, a group of women artists and activists donned Gorilla masks and marched in front of museums and galleries in New York City, protesting the vastly unequal representation of men and women artists in these institutions. They called themselves the Guerrilla Girls and with their confrontational activism, they jumpstarted a process of self-examination and re-visioning of history in the art world, a rediscovery of passed-over and sidelined women artists throughout history, as well as shining the spotlight on the importance and relevance of the work of contemporary women artists. Thirty-five years later, we have still not achieved equal representation or income parity in the visual arts, but much progress has been made, and Great Women Artists (Phaidon, $59.95) is a celebration of this exciting paradigm shift. Included in the book are images of the work of 400 women artists from the past 500 years, along with a paragraph on the history and significance of each one (there is a page on the Guerrilla Girls). These images show the pioneering diversity of art made by women, and prove decisively that women make art which transcends the supposed limitation of femaleness, and that—as the strikethrough in the title suggests— Great Women Artists are simply Great Artists.
The Art Museum, by the editors of Phaidon Press ($59.95), brings together an astonishing cross-section of work from around the globe and throughout time, reproduced in over 1,600 beautiful color images. The reader can jump from virtual room to virtual room by flipping the pages, or stay in one place for a comprehensive study. This book is perfect for an art lover, a person who wants to learn about art, or someone who loves art but whose feet just can’t take the Smithsonian anymore. A single book doesn’t get more entertaining or informative than this, and finally there is no crowd standing in front of what you want to see.
Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900 (Yale, $65) edited by Laurence Madeline, former curator at the Musée d’Orsay, is a must-own for art lovers, historians, and feminists alike. This stunning exhibition catalogue presents over eighty paintings by thirty-seven different artists. Paris in the late nineteenth century was considered the place for artists to train, and people came from around the world to develop their technique. This catalogue is a testament to the exceptional and varied work produced by the women who journeyed to Paris to pursue their artistic ambitions. These artists fought to achieve recognition at a time when artistic talent and creative genius were thought to be reserved for men, all the while also trying to adhere to the social norms that governed the lives of respectable women. They persevered in the face of rejection and condescension, and created masterful works of art in the process. The scholarly essays that open the book are fascinating and well worth the read, but the catalog of full-page color reproductions that follow are what readers will find irresistible. Here you will encounter works by household names like Mary Cassatt alongside those by artists still waiting to achieve the widespread public recognition they are due, such as Marie Bashkirtseff and Cecilia Beaux.