“Separate but equal,” the Supreme Court ruling in 1869 that okayed segregation laws in the states, is now giving every appearance of being applied to art by women.

Dividing displays by gender is bad enough when women’s groups do it. But when an art museum indulges, the bad idea becomes institutionalized.

The great divide

This week, Michigan’s Muskegon Museum of Art broke ground for a separate $12 million wing dedicated to female artists funded by a donation. The women’s works will be displayed apart from the institution’s 5,000-item collection by the likes of Homer, Hopper, and Whistler.

Muskegon Museum director Dirk Hallmark thinks this turn of events was written in the stars. Referring to the donation bankrolling the project, he told Art News, “The stars were lining up, as they do sometimes. It seemed like destiny, really.”

“Destiny”? Is a woman’s art fated to be viewed in isolation?

The donors, Texas collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Elaine Melotti Schmidt, include in their donation 150 paintings by women, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, and Elaine de Kooning.

Certainly, too much art by women has not taken its rightful place in museums. A 2019 study conducted by Artnet News and Art Agency showed that while 87 percent of art held by museums is by men, only 11 percent is by women.

Those percentages moved Bennett and Schmidt to collect art by women. They told Art News, “we don’t have anything against male artists.”

Then why not integrate women’s work with men's? Why can’t, say, the donation of the Mary Cassatt painting be installed with fellow Impressionists already owned by Muskegon Museum - Camille Pissarro, Pierre Bonnard, or Alfred Sisley?

And, why not re-imagine other ways of integrating male and female artists like New York’s Museum of Modern Art paired Faith Ringgold’s American People Series with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles f’Avignon?

MoMA also showed curatorial initiative when it hung Leonora Carrington’s subtle surreal painting Milk of Dreams in its Surreal Gallery with the better-known Henri Rousseau and Giorgio di Chirico.

Muskegon Museum doesn’t need a showy new wing to house women’s work. Director Hallmark calls the new wing idea “an expansion project.” Wouldn’t the viewers’ experience be better expanded if his focus was on art, rather than gender?

Hallmark said in a statement, “This gifted artwork adds an entirely new dimension and balance to our already impressive collection.” Does he ever listen to himself? “Balance” would be a reality if the art of men and women hung together?

It's surprising that the separate but equal plan for women’s art in Michigan would be praised by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who frowned on Trump’s plan to exclude illegal immigrants from the 2020 census.

A room of her own?

“I am especially proud,” Whitmer said in a statement, “that the expansion will create and dedicate space for women artists.” If non-citizens shouldn’t be left out, why keep female artists from taking their proper place in a museum collection?

Ladies' rooms are bathrooms, not galleries.