I have a confession to make. After fifteen years as an arts writer, I still do not understand the art market, especially institutional collections.
It’s not as if I haven’t tried. I’ve researched the primary and secondary art markets, followed auctions, and interviewed a slew of curators and collectors—in their homes, on stages, in articles, and podcasts. I’ve attended art fairs and exhibitions all over the world. I have co-hosted a speaker series to explore the process of collecting art in Baltimore. I have worn cute shoes at fancy New York art parties with legit celebrities and I’ve driven Mera Rubell all over Baltimore in my Subaru. You would think that I would be on the same page as our major collecting institution in Baltimore, but the truth is I am not. I do not understand their “art math.”
After a year where the Baltimore Museum of Art announced, to great fanfare and publicity, that it would be purchasing art exclusively by women in 2020 in order to “rectify centuries of imbalance,” they sent out a final recap in late December.
In a press release, the BMA announced the acquisition of 65 works by 49 female-identifying artists for $2.57 million. To put this amount into context, it’s about five times their usual budget for collecting. Much of the money was raised by deaccessioning art in 2018 with the stated goal to diversify the collection, that is, to purchase art by women and BIPOC and LGBTQI artists who have been statistically underrepresented in their encyclopedic collection of approximately 95,000 objects, which continues to hover around 96 percent white and male.