Where are the Women in Google’s Art Project?

Earlier today, Google unveiled its next major use of Street View technology when it launched Art Project–basically a way to browse museums online. Admittedly it is extremely cool. It’s also convenient to be able to step into a world-famous museum and look at renowned works of art minus the crowd of art gawkers. That said, I couldn’t help but notice that Art Project was running low on women artists in the 17 museums it has included so far. Very low. In fact, I’ve only been able to locate a few women artists in three of them, all located in Europe: Museum Kampa in Prague, Palace of Versailles in suburban Paris and the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

Though the project is brand new, it does serve as a bitter reminder of the lack of women artists being featured in real-life museums. What immediately comes to mind is the famous Guerrilla Girls poster:

Do women have to be naked to get into the Met[ropolitan]. Museum?: Less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83% of the nudes are female.

On Google’s Art Project, the stat is even worse: None of the artists chosen by New York’s Metropolitan Museum to be featured are women (Google doesn’t curate the Art Project, the museums submit pieces to be featured). A number of the paintings are listed as “artist unknown,” so it is possible that a woman painter has snuck in, but the larger point remains: Women artists are given little to no recognition or exposure in comparison to the men whose work dominates these exhibits.

This seems even worse because it’s on the Internet, and doesn’t cost anybody anything to be able to display it. Sure, you could make the argument that Google will soon expand into more museums and show more artists, including women, but the fact that the museums initially chose primarily male artists says volumes.

Though the software is fascinating and opens the door for a wide variety of ventures–I’m waiting for Google Cave-Diving and Google Mountain-Climbing–I hope that Google takes advantage of the platform to enable women artists to gain the exposure they deserve.

Call for readers: If you spot any other women artists among those museums in the Art Project, please list them in the comments and I’ll update this post accordingly.

Comments

  1. A curator says:

    The reason for the small number of women artists is one part Linda Nochlin's "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists" and one part copyright law.
    Contemporary collections include many more women artists because they reflect the interests of collectors, supporters and donors in the communities of these living institutions as well as the great societal changes. Collections of earlier periods reflect their times- fewer women had access to art education, their work was not collected, etc. The museum is a reflection of its community and its time.
    A quick glance seems to put most of the artist on Google Art Project in public domain. To get copyright permission costs money, and the type of use often determines the fee. So saying "… because it’s on the Internet, [it] doesn’t cost anybody anything to be able to display it. " is totally wrong. In fact to display it without permission will end up costing more. An artists work is protected by copyright as long as they are alive, passes to their heirs, and can be renewed, hence the work on Google Art Project will probably hit a date-wall and has a built in gender problem.

    • Thanks for your comment A curator. I guess that 'it doesn't cost anybody anything' was a pretty blanketing statement–the point I was trying to make was that theoretically art would be more easily able to put on the Internet because there aren't space restrictions, need to cater to audience demand etc

      Also, I understand what you are saying about there being less women artwork available in earlier periods but with that said, there is public domain artwork by women artists that do exist in these museums in real life (at the very least in the Met) and are still not here. So there's still a decision being made to not choose women art.

    • megan o says:

      yeah maybe you should take a peak at Linda Nochlin’s article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Thirty Years Later.” Also, Nochlin’s article was never meant to be a polemic that excused the institutions for the blindness to and erasure of women artists. Unfortunately I think Google participates in this double erasure, an unfortunate effect of blockbuster curatorial practices.

      I certainly am, like many, intoxicated by the utopian visions the Google Art Project produces but I think we need to be more careful in excavating and challenging the power structures at play. Excuses just reify the system.

  2. Do you know if there is anything being actively done to make it known to Google that female artists have been almost entirely absent from this project?

  3. A female artist says:

    The user video Google posted to instruct people about how to use the project says that the MUSEUMS are the ones that selected the up-close-and-personal pieces of art. Your article makes it seem like Google is equally culpable in the lack of female artists' representation. There tends to be a huge discrepency in the ratio of male t female artists anywhere, let alone museums, but maybe we shouldn't blame Google's new cool toy for that? After all, it's the only way THIS woman artist is going to be able to "go" to some fo these museums…

    • "None of the artists chosen by New York’s Metropolitan Museum to be featured are women."
      But I'll make it a bit more clear than that.

    • Another woman artist says:

      I'm sure google could stipulate equal representation if they wanted to, they are not powerless in this partnership. The fact that they don't think it's an issue speaks volumes.
      Btw, has anyone noted whether non-Western artists are represented?

  4. All of the works shown are also pretty tame. There is nothing that I could find AbEx or later. The more recent the work, the more women will be in the mix. I think that this project is really cool and hope they will expand it to include actual live artists, and maybe some of them female.

  5. As others have said (here and on tumblr), there is definitely less artwork available from earlier periods. I'm not sure if anyone's deliberately choosing to exclude women artists, but I certainly wouldn't be shocked.

    • There is certainly much less "artwork" by women artists if the "artwork" being considered for inclusion is that which was dominated by men and often excluded women (oil painting – religious, mythological, even landscape…). Women were not allowed to study the figure and even female models were blindfolded to preserve their purity. If we take the time to open our understanding of art history to include the history of art made by people from other backgrounds, that WILL include women. For far too long we have excused this exclusion because the work simply does not exist. In reality, there are many many cases of artwork created by women and other minorities – quilts, embroidery, other textile arts, painting, sculpture, glass painting/etching, miniatures.
      Women were not different before. They simply had access to different realms. They still created. And it is our obligation to take the time to find the things they made and explore the context of creation.

      The exclusion of women is not accidental. We are too lazy to take the time to explore our own biases.

  6. We just need to encourage Google to work with the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This museum was started to bring attention to woman artists. Check it out! http://www.nmwa.org

  7. Just a few women artists' names from the past, all dead, surely there are several in the public domain? Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, Judith Leyster, Rachel Ruysch, Clara Peeters, Angelica Kauffman, Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun, Rosa Bonheur, Camille Claudel, Mary Cassat, Berthe Morisot, Lila Cabot Perry, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe….
    Google them!

  8. Just a few women artists' names from the past, all dead, surely there are several in the public domain? Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, Judith Leyster, Rachel Ruysch, Clara Peeters, Angelica Kauffman, Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun, Rosa Bonheur, Camille Claudel, Mary Cassat, Berthe Morisot, Lila Cabot Perry, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe….

  9. The Met has work by Adelaide Labille Guiard, Elizabeth Vigee leBrun, Mary Cassat and others that it could have shown in this project – why haven't they?

  10. Elizabeth Vigee leBrun is a women and artist very special.

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