She was often tired of the comments on her purchasing policy for the Gemeentemuseum Arnhem. As museum director, Liesbeth Brandt Corstius bought fifty percent works of art by women and fifty by men. In the early 1980s, this was such a radical choice that the phrase ’50 percent art and fifty percent women’ had to represent a joke that kept popping up.
‘I thought for a while: let’s talk about something else. So I kept my mouth shut about positive discrimination for a while,” she told this magazine in 1994. A tactic she clearly employed in the catalog of the exhibition of New Acquisitions between 1984 and 1989. Although the cover shows a photo of the exhibition hall with a painting of a naked woman by Marlene Dumas prominently in the front, in her explanation Brandt Corstius does not mention a word about her much-debated politics, she dryly explains that the two areas of collection are magical realism and new figuration, the words ‘man’ and ‘woman ‘ doesn’t appear in them. At the back of the catalog from the Faculty of Art History’s library, a reader has ticked off all women’s names on the list of purchased works. Exactly half.
‘I’m showing that it’s possible’, she explained in 1994 when she was awarded the Aletta Jacobs Award for her commitment to women artists. ‘It’: to create a content-rich, good exhibition with as many female as male artists. The communication about this was at least as important as the art itself, Brandt Corstius knew. “We are a folk museum, not a men’s museum,” she explained on the talk show Ischa. Challenging: ‘Most museum directors only talk to other men, so they lack information about the amazing art that women make.’ By 1982, she had already mentioned that she sometimes used the word feminism on purpose because it had such a bad connotation. Because it produced many reactions, and they were necessary.
In the 1990s she adapted that tactic slightly – the female artists who exhibited in Arnhem were sometimes not taken seriously because of her use of the f-word. Exhibitions such as Elck is why, in 1994, over four and a half centuries of Belgian and Dutch artists, and Flowers from the basement from 1989, some nine female artists from around 1900 also rattled the Dutch art history canon. After her retirement in 2000, she hosted art can, the television program about visual arts. She had had a blind spot for representing artists of color, she said de Volkskrant earlier this year she was embarrassed about it afterwards.
Liesbeth Brandt Corstius was born in 1940 in Utrecht. Her father was Jan Brandt Corstius, man of letters and co-founder of Humanistisk Forening, Hugo Brandt Corstius was her older brother. They grew up in a social democratic environment. Liesbeth studied art history in Amsterdam and graduated in January 1966 with a master’s thesis on the painter Colantino, a representative of the Neapolitan school in the first half of the fifteenth century.
Sometimes she used the word feminism on purpose because of its bad sound
She began working at the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum. In a big interview in NRC in 1972 she advocated more accessible information for exhibitions. You would reach more people with short texts and other means than with a scientific catalog text.
In 1974, she leaves Boijmans and becomes freelance editor-in-chief at Museum news. She wants to get rid of the scientific tone in the magazine. ‘The advantage here is that I am not very clever, but I make the condition that I must at least understand the pieces,’ she writes to her readers.
She visits the exhibition in Frankfurt with her friend Josine de Bruyn Kops, director of the municipal museums in Gouda. The Artist International 1877-1977. How many female artists are there in the Netherlands anyway? And what do they do? Together with De Bruyn Kops, she founded the Women in the Visual Arts Foundation (svbk) on. After a call to the side two thousand female artists apply. The foundation’s purpose is to bring these women forward with their art and stimulate their self-esteem.
Brandt Corstius is now also editor at to the side and editor of chrysalis, a new bi-annual magazine for literature and art on a feminist basis – the second issue consists of a special issue on forgotten women from Dutch literature up to 1900.
From 1979 to 1981 the exhibition tours Feminist Art International, consisting of svbk, along seven cities in the Netherlands. Themes are the resistance to stereotypical gender roles, female sexuality in feminist art and the search for inspiring examples of women from the past and present.
The themes introduced by Brandt Corstius are now regularly exhibited in some Dutch museums. The imbalance is still there despite all the initiatives. In the week after her death, a report by the advocacy organization Women Inc. shows that men still earn fifty percent more than women in the art world, spend more time in museums and occupy most of the top positions. This was news to some. Liesbeth Brandt Corstius could have said something funny about it.