In 2010, Philadelphia art collector and artist Linda Lee Alter designated PAFA as the recipient of her 500-work Art by Women Collection. Alter had been assembling the collection since the 1980s after realizing that work by women artists was severely underrepresented in most art museums, and had intended from the start that the collection would one day go to a museum.
PAFA’s Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women spans the 1910s to the first decade of the 21st century. All media are represented, including ceramics, photography, painting, sculpture, assemblage, as well as works on paper. More than 150 artists are represented – from the well-known to the underappreciated – including works by artists not previously in PAFA’s collection such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Joan Brown, Viola Frey, Ana Mendieta, Christina Ramberg, and Beatrice Wood (among others), as well as complementary works by artists already in PAFA’s collection such as Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, Gertrude Abercrombie, Edna Andrade, Sue Coe, Janet Fish, Sarah McEneaney, Gladys Nilsson, Elizabeth Osborne, Betye Saar, and Nancy Spero.
As Alter wrote in 2010, “My hope was to find a museum emphasizing inclusion and diversity, one working toward greater representation of art by women and artists of color in its permanent collection, exhibitions and outreach programs; where the art by women would be fully accessible to students, teachers, scholars and the general public; and where my collection would be enthusiastically welcomed because it embodied the institution’s vision.”
Alter believes that her goal was accomplished: “The Academy has warmly welcomed my collection. It is the home for the art by women I’d always hoped to find.”
For PAFA, Alter’s gift of her Art by Women collection was unprecedented (in scope, theme, and size) in PAFA’s history. PAFA celebrated the gift with an exhibition composed entirely of works from the Alter Collection: The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World became PAFA’s principal 2012-13 exhibition, presented from November to April in both the Fisher Brooks and Annenberg Galleries of PAFA’s Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building. Despite requiring twice the square footage of most temporary exhibitions, Female Gaze featured only 200 of the 500 works comprising the Art by Women Collection. A 272-page catalog with 12 scholarly essays, edited by PAFA’s Curator of Modern Art, Robert Cozzolino (who also served as Female Gaze’s curator, and worked alongside PAFA President David R. Brigham in making the case that PAFA should be the recipient of Alter’s gift) is available through PAFA and at Amazon.com.
Works from the Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women are on display at PAFA at all times.
Listen to Linda Lee Alter and some of the artists in her collection discuss their work:
Linda Lee Alter