Art historian Lisbeth Brandt Curstius said in a 1994 interview with Green Amsterdam. “To be honest, it seems obvious to me as well. But in many museums or art and historical sites, this has always been denied and it was only about inherent beauty.”
As director of the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem, she was a great champion of the position of women artists. Since her appointment in 1982, her policy has been to select women’s work for at least half of all purchases and exhibitions. In the meantime, the international art world was becoming more aware of women’s and minority art, but Brandt Curstius was a pioneer.
strict artistic ideas
Liesbeth Brandt Corstius studied Art History at the University of Amsterdam. She was the daughter of the literary man Jan Brandt Curstius, co-founder of the Humanist Society, and the sister of writer and essayist Hugo Brandt Curstius. In an interview with Norwegian Refugee Council In 2000 she spoke of the social-democratic environment in which she grew up and the strict artistic ideas of her parents, who furnished the parents’ house according to the strict standards of modernity. “When I moved to The Hague, I got a conservatory with stained glass windows from Jugendstil. The first time my mother came to visit I cried: Baby, you must live in this! I loved what she was fighting against.”
From 1967 to 1974 she worked as a curator of modern art at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. She held several exhibitions there, exclusively for male artists – “but I never noticed it,” she later said. Only when she visited the International Youth Biennale of Artists in Paris in the mid-1970s, with her friend Josine de Bruyne Coups, who was the director of the Stedelijk Gouda, did she see any female artists among all these young artists. “Do we already know the female artists ourselves, we wondered. No. We studied art history and worked in the art world, but we couldn’t name just one.”
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So in 1976 the two wrote an appeal in a feminist magazine with writer Ella Ritsma aside: “Are there female artists in the Netherlands?” About two thousand women applied by letters. This was the reason for the founding of the Foundation for Women in the Visual Arts (SVBK), in 1978, which created national working groups and organized exhibitions. For example, Brandt Curstius introduced exhibitions International Feminist Arts (1979) and the art of motherhood (1981) together, showing works by little-known artists such as Nancy Spiro and Myriam Kahn.
In 1982, she succeeded Pierre Janssen as director of the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem, now the Arnhem Museum, and from her position was able to offer opportunities to women artists who could not gain a foothold in other museums. Early on, she bought works by artists such as Marilyn Dumas, Charlotte Motsers, Irene Fortuyn, Rebecca Horn and Lydia Scotten. At first she publicly declared her belief in affirmative action, but stopped when the museum began to get a bad image. Critics have contemptuously described the group as “fifty percent art and fifty percent women”. “In the ’90s, I continued this policy, but I no longer shout it from the rooftops,” Brandt Curstius said at the beginning of this year. De Volkskrant. “Feminism has a dirty connotation.”
From 1996 she participated in the expansion of the museum. The extension opened in 2000 and Brandt Curstius retired. After retiring, she joined the TV show tin artUntil it was discontinued in 2005.
On March 8, 1994, she was awarded the Aletta Jacobs Award for her commitment to female artists.
A version of this article also appeared in the August 16, 2022 newspaper