Two Women Artists Have Major Retrospectives at New York's Museum of Modern Art

For decades, women have fought hard for equal representation and recognition in the art world. They have performed direct action protests at museums and galleries, curated their own shows, created alternative spaces for exhibiting art, and made history in the process. The struggle still continues, but it is important to note when progress is made.

Currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art is a retrospective of Cindy Sherman's groundbreaking photographic portraits spanning over 35 years of her career, featuring Untitled #458 (left). Along with Sherman, MoMA is also exhibiting Sweet Violence, a retrospective of Croatian artist Sanja Ivecovic, including her Paper Women (below).

Both exhibitions are made possible in part by the Modern Women's Fund, an initiative established in 2005 through the support of benefactor Sarah Peter to promote scholarship on women in the arts. Since that time, MoMA has published Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art, which covers women artists from the museum's founding in 1929 to present day.

The fund has also been instrumental in securing art by women for MoMA's permanent collection, including its most recent acquisition, Mother and Child, a 1956 sculpture by pioneering African American artist Elizabeth Catlett.

Cindy Sherman made art history with her Untitled Film Stills, a series of
black and white photos featuring the artist in various poses and settings from films that don't exist. Sherman stresses that these are in no way meant to be self portraits, but portrayals of different characters. In a 2008 interview with New York Magazine, the artist said, "I created in my mind an idea of who the character was, if she's wearing a certain outfit. Maybe the working girl on her way to her first job in the city. Something like that."

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #10, 1978. Image via

In recent years, Sherman's work has focused on questioning ideas of feminine beauty, as with her Fashion Victims series (shown above), which depicts aging women wearing excessive makeup or who have had cosmetic surgery in an attempt to cling to their youth.

Sanja Ivecovic's work also deals with the portrayal of women in advertising and the mass media. Ivecovic questions the way women are used to promote products and project a stylized view of women's lives that has nothing to do with their reality. One striking example is the Women's House series, where the artist takes print ads featuring glamorous models and captions them with first person accounts of women who live in shelters sharing their experiences of surviving domestic violence.

Sanja Ivecovic, Women's House (Sunglasses), 2002-present. Inkjet prints from a series of 16, collection of the artist. Image via

In the video and stills of Practice Makes a Master seen below, Ivecovic dons a black dress and white hood, two overt symbols of oppression and morbidity to comment on psychology and violence.

Overall, both Sherman and Ivecovic question the perception of women in society. Looking at their work, I was reminded of how little the media has changed when it comes to its portrayals of women. The "sweet violence" continues, and these two artists are more relevant than ever as we reflect on what still needs to change.