The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World

The Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women represents over 150 artists, a scope unprecedented in PAFA’s history

The Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women is a collection of close to 500 works of art (including paintings, photographs, drawings, watercolors, pastels, collage, prints, fabric pieces, ceramics, bronze, wood, and sculpture in other media) by over 150 artists. It came to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) as a gift in December 2010 from Linda Lee Alter. The gift (its scope, theme, and size) is unprecedented in PAFA’s history. It includes works by artists PAFA did not yet have in its collection such as Louise Bourgeois, Joan Brown, Viola Frey, Ana Mendieta, Christina Ramberg, Kiki Smith, and Beatrice Wood (among others) and works by artists already in the collection including Gertrude Abercrombie, Edna Andrade, Sue Coe, Janet Fish, Sarah McEneaney, Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, Gladys Nilsson, Elizabeth Osborne, Betye Saar, Nancy Spero, and many others.

When Alter began collecting in the mid-1980s, she realized that despite the monumental efforts of the women’s movement, female artists had far fewer opportunities for visibility than their male counterparts. Alter decided to work to correct this imbalance, making the conscious decision to assemble a multi-generational collection of art made by women that reveals the stylistic diversity, range of subject matter, and high quality of work being made by female artists. From the outset she hoped that the collection would find a home in a museum so that it could be integrated into the public life of an institution – its educational outreach, exhibitions, scholarship, and use of technology – rather than kept separate as an anomalous thematic collection. Although identity and gender are fundamental to the collection’s overall scope, Alter’s philosophical aim was that of integration and to draw attention to diversity within the broader art world.

More than 200 works were on view, arranged thematically (including sections on self-portraiture, spiritual reactions to nature, politics, sexuality, family, and a wide range of land- and cityscapes).

Read more about the Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women.

Listen to Linda Lee Alter and some of the artists in her collection discuss their work:

Linda Lee Alter

Judith Schaechter:

Elaine Reichek

Barbara Takenaga

Elizabeth Osborne

Joyce Kozloff

Diane Burko


This gorgeously illustrated volume celebrates the collection and its legacy by bringing together leading scholars of feminism, and modern and contemporary art to discuss how the artists in Alter's collection saw and transformed the world. Among the essays are discussions of the impact of feminism in Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay area; self-portraiture by women in the 1970s and 1980s; the legacy of Elizabeth Catlett on younger African American artists; collaborative practice among women; an interview with Linda Lee Alter; and an appreciation by artist Diane Burko Edited by Robert Cozzolino. Contributors include Glenn Adamson, Linda Lee Alter, Diane Burko, Anna Chave, Robert Cozzolino, Joanna Gardner-Huggett, Anna Havermann, Melanie Anne Herzog, Janine Mileaf, Mey-Yen Moriuchi, Jodi Throckmorton and Michele Wallace

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