Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art By Women
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, Alison Saar, Viola Frey, Barbara Takenaga, Ana Mendieta, Christina Ramberg, Kara Walker, Beatrice Wood, and Faith Ringgold, (among others), as well as complementary works by artists already in PAFA’s collection such as Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, Elizabeth Catlett, Gertrude Abercrombie, Hung Lui, Edna Andrade, Sue Coe, Janet Fish, Sarah McEneaney, Gladys Nilsson, Elizabeth Osborne, Betye Saar, and Nancy Spero.
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.—Linda Lee Alter (2010)
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.
As Lee envisioned, the Art by Women Collection has encouraged and informed PAFA's efforts to celebrate the unique personal world views of women artists, artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, and other underrepresented artists. Since 2011, the Collection has provided a broad perspective for students and visitors to more fully understand and appreciate the world around them, and serves an essential role in all aspects of PAFA’s educational and museum programs.
Many works from the Linda Lee Alter Collection are on display at PAFA at all times.