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Feminist Art History Conference

By Sonja Patterson

Dean Peter Starr with Mary Garrard and Norma Broude. Photo by Jeff Watts.

Dean Peter Starr with Mary Garrard and Norma Broude. Photo by Jeff Watts.

Feminist art historians have created a masterpiece of their own: a conference to bring people together, celebrate accomplishments, and discuss advancements in scholarship.

The first annual feminist art history conference, “Continuing the Legacy: the Work of Norma Broude and Mary Garrard,” happened last October, with events at the American University Museum at the Katzen Center and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. More than 200 scholars from across 10 the country and around the world attended.

Keynote speaker Anna Chave of Queens College and the City University of New York drew a crowd to her provocative talk, “High Tide: Deploying Fluids in Women’s Art Practice.”

According to Kathe Albrecht, the art department’s manager of visual resources and an organizer of the event, a feminist art history conference provides a context for viewing art history completely and inclusively.

“In the past, only the men were studied, which was an incomplete picture of what was happening. This conference brings in the work and scholarship of half the population.”

Despite postfeminist claims that women have achieved equality and that they’re beyond feminist tactics, Albrecht says there’s still work to do.

In the late 1800’s during the emergence of impressionism, women could not enter the Louvre without a male escort even though portraits of women adorned the walls. In 2005, only 3 percent of featured artists in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were women. What’s wrong with this picture?

Panelist and AU alumna Katja Zigerlig, MA art history ’98, raised another issue: the financial disparity in the market between prices of artwork sold at auction by women versus men artists. “It’s going to take a long time for the prices of the women’s work to catch up,” says Albrecht.

Art history professor Helen Langa, who helped organize the meeting, says, “The enthusiasm, the strength of the papers, the stimulating keynote address, the energy that the conference generated, the connections made among attendees, and the influence that it had on our graduate and undergraduate students, who assisted in its planning and attended the sessions— all revealed the importance of such an event.”

The conference honored Norma Broude and Mary Garrard, two pioneering feminist art history professors who have left a legacy of scholarship, inspirational teaching, and outstanding publications.

“American University has been a hub for feminist art history for more than 40 years and will continue to be so because of their work,” says Albrecht.

During the closing reception at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Garrard discussed and signed her book Brunelleschi’s Egg: Nature, Art, and Gender in Renaissance Italy (University of California Press, 2010).

The 2011 conference, scheduled for November 4–6, promises to equal, if not surpass, this year’s event. “We’re looking forward to continuing and growing the conference,” says Albrecht. “It will be another exciting and cutting-edge look at emerging art hisbtory scholarship.”