Thursday, June 26, 2014


A consistent number at the CoUNTesses offices is 40.  That's 40% on average of representation of women artists in Australia's public and commercial galleries.  But CoUNTess noticed a couple of changing signs that inch our numbers closer towards equality in gender representation in the visual arts we thought we would share with you.  42 for now is the new 40.

First of all were pleased to see so many female artists represented by commercial galleries getting some wall space at this this years Gallery Art Basel Hong Kong.  In fact 42% of the Australian galleries artists in the Hong Kong Basel Art Fair are women!

Diane Tanzer - Natasha Bieniek
Utopian Slumps - Jake Walker
Sullivan_Strumpf - Sam Leach, Tony Albert, Ex de Medici, Alex Seton
Tolarno Gallery - Anastasia Klose, Patricia Picinini, Ben Quilty
Jan Murphy Gallery - Danie Mellor
Murray White Room - Polly Borland, Anne-Marie May, Alasdair McLuckie, Aubry/Broquard
Anna Schwartz - Heman Chong, Angela de la Cruz
Roslyn Oxley9 - Daniel Boyd, Fiona Hall

CoUNTess has been keeping a running tab of art prizes over the last twelve months (but admits it is not an exhaustive range) but found that here also in the land of art prizes 42% of the 2013 winners have been female artists!

While understanding the limits of magical thinking and the claim that 42 is the answer to the universe and everything, and remembering that Elvis did not live to see 43, CoUNTess believes that 42 is indeed a special number we will be keeping our eye on.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 19th Biennale of Sydney 2014 : Imagine what you desire

The Biennale of Sydney established in 1973 has been curated by 4 women, 14 men and 1 collaborative team (m+f).

biennale of sydney curators
The 19th Biennale of Sydney - Imagine What You Desire curated by Julianna Engberg continues her commitment, established via her role as Artistic Director of ACCA for many years, where a high representation of women artists have exhibited.  Engberg includes 38 female artists and 45 male artists in the 19th Biennale which shows a promising result and a steep improvement on previous years.

Gender Representation of Artists in the 19th Biennale of Sydney 2014

But while women are certainly participating in the 2014 Biennale in greater numbers CoUNTess data mining also uncovered a gender bias in the media and marketing around the exhibition/event.  

Catalogue cover = 1 male artist
Website links to Youtube video interviews with artists = 3 male artists, 1 collab duo (m+f)
Primary School education resource = 4 female artists, 11 male artists and 3 collab
Secondary School education resource = 10 female artists, 15 male artists, 5 collab

While the website also features a list of exhibitions in local commerical and public galleries, selection for inclusion in this list is unclear - so CoUNTess counted a range of local Sydney contemporary art spaces to see what artists were on show.

* indicates gallery was holding two solo exhibitions

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not enough women of "merit" ?

CoUNTess email mailbox set off gender representation alarm bells this week when more than a few emails rolled in announcing the selected artists in a number of upcoming exhibitions in some of Australia's publicly funded museums and public spaces. Whether you're emerging or established or as they say in Melbourne "NOW",  in these prominent exhibitions it would seem the art-world gatekeepers are having the same problem as Tony Abbott who could not find enough women of "merit" to fill his governments' cabinet positions!

Annabel Crabb commentary on Abbott's "merit" claim is quoted here for its humour and the familiar parallel with claims of artistic merit that also dominate the contemporary visual arts;
"That's just how it panned out" is the traditionalists' defence of organisations that proudly appoint "only on merit" and find, time after time, that an astonishingly high proportion of the really excellent people also have willies."

1. NSW Visual Arts Fellowship for Emerging Artists (used to be Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship)

12 Finalists - 4 female artists - 8 male artists
There is really no excuse for gender inequality in a show of selected emerging artists fresh out of our national art schools which are overflowing with female students (previous CoUNTess posts have determined up to 70% and sometimes more graduating students from fine art courses are women).  How does a result occur where twice as many male artists than women artists are selected?  Is the way the art-world judges artistic merit playing a part?  Is artistic merit gendered?  Or is it possible women artists are not applying in sufficient numbers? If not why not?  

For reference CoUNTess combed back through the scholarships history and found an equal distribution of the scholarship winners between female, male and collaborative duos.  But regardless of such an even handed historical result, when Artspace recently put together a travelling exhibition showcasing some of the previous winners prophetically titled How Yesterday Remembers Tomorrow it included; 1 solo female artist, 2 collaborative male/female duos and 3 solo male artists - effectively 5 male artists and 3 female artists.

The Artspace website, where this scholarship exhibition has been held on an annual basis, quotes the Minister for the Arts
The Hon. George Souris MP who states:
“Applicants were assessed by an independent panel on their artistic merit, professional skills and experience, the suitability of their proposed program in relation to their artistic practice, and the significance of the program to their career...."


2. 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: DARK HEART 
23 exhibiting artists - 7 female artists - 15 male artists - 1 collaborative group

Adelaide Biennial is an exhibition at the other end of the professional spectrum to the NSW Emerging Artist Fellowship. CoUNTess has addressed this bi-annual curated exhibition in previous posts - and unfortunately this show has mostly favoured male artists with one exception in 2004 when curated by Julie Robinson.  

The AGSA announces the exhibition is about difficult conversations and the guest speaker will be Germaine Greer!  

CoUNTess has a difficult question - why so few women artists?

From the Art Gallery of South Australia's website

‘In its 13th iteration the Biennial will tap into the hearts and minds of contemporary Australian society, to explore the political, the psychological and the personal. I am after an inherently emotional and immersive exhibition, one that is unafraid to ask difficult questions and expose the underbelly of society.’ Nick Mitzevich curator

The theme of difficult conversations runs throughout the biennial. This will be presented in the exhibition publication which will feature an essay by Australia’s most controversial expatriate, Germaine Greer. 

3. Melbourne Now NGV 

28 initial artists announced on NGV website - 8 female artists - 14 male artists + (5 designers 4 of whom are women and 1 male)

CoUNTess is looking forward to seeing the full list of over 130 participating artists. In the meantime we had to make do with the initial list, which is being released in stages and published on the NGV website ...
Melbourne Now celebrates the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex cultural landscape of creative Melbourne. This ambitious and far-reaching exhibition across NGV Australia and NGV International will show how visual artists and creative practitioners have profoundly contributed to creating a place with a unique and dynamic cultural identity.
While CoUNTess's focus is always on the contemporary artists gender representation, it is obvious the greater percentage of women participants in Melbourne Now at this point are designers.  While the majority of contemporary artists in Melbourne Now at this point are male artists.  Is this also a situation of just not enough women artists with "artistic merit"? How can these gender representation numbers make sense when they sit in stark contrast to the fact that the gender distribution of fine art graduating students (the pool of artists) are 70% women.

We hope this initial published artists participant list will not reflect the gender representation in the full show when it opens in November.  Because the very real-world outcome of unequal gender representation is unequal distribution of funds and thats a very real pay gap?

4. Primavera - Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
4 female artists, 4 male artists

Just so your spirits are not completely disheartened there are some exhibitions that manage equal gender representation and Primavera 2013 is one.
This much-loved annual exhibition (turning 22 this year!) returns to our galleries with the next crop of unapologetically bold makers, thinkers and performers. Hailing from Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, the work of these eight young Australian artists will delight and fascinate.

5. The Wandering: Moving Images from the MCA Collection
15 exhibiting artists : 4 female artists (one is a collaborative duo), 10 male artists

Unfortunately another current MCA project can not claim the same gender equality outcome as Primavera.  This exhibition The Wandering is a touring show of works purchased by the MCA for their collection of 14 moving image works by 4 female artists (one being a collaborative duo) and 10 male artists.

This collection based show would either suggest that the MCA doesn't appear to have a gender equity policy and therefore haven't seen the need to collect moving image work by women or they do purchase moving image work by women but they choose not to show it?

Either way this example shows how the work of women artists is undervalued and under represented. The blurb from the MCA website about this show claims;
The Wandering: Moving images from the MCA Collection takes us on a unique journey through contemporary Australian art. The immediacy of moving image provides opportunities for art to engage with audiences in ways that are different to static, more traditional mediums, such as painting and sculpture. The exhibition presents artworks recently acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia by 15 leading artists

Monday, May 13, 2013

CoUNTess goes to 55th International Venice Biennale

by The Auditor

As CoUNTess is about to jet off to see the continent this year We thought We’d do a bit of homework about what We might expect to see.

First stop on our itinerary will be Venice to see the 55th International Venice Biennale, so We checked the list of exhibiting artists and of course We had to do a bit of CoUNTing since that’s what We do.

Apart from each participating country having its own pavilion in the Giardini, the main exhibition is a huge international show and the major part of the Biennale this year it is curated by Massimilliano Gioni and is titled The Encyclopedic Palace.

Included in the exhibition are 36 female artists and 104 male artists as well as 11 collaborations or groups. 

Shock! Horror! or maybe on second thoughts, that’s not really surprising since its almost typical of gender balances that We see a lot of here in Australia, if not slightly worse.
We noted that there are no Australian artists in this important curated exhibition while the Australian Pavilion will show the work of Simryn Gill.

When those figures are put into percentages, We find that the exhibition showcases the work of 69% male artists and only 24% female artists. Surprisingly the international exhibition lists almost the same percentages as all of the individual country’s pavilions when they were counted. Out of 31 countries that will show solo artists 74% solo artists will be male and 26% will be female. Assuming all of these countries have similar ratios of artists in general and art school graduate ratios as Australia has, (35% male grads and 65% female grads) a male artist will have above 5 times more chance of showing at the Venice Biennale than a female artist.

These Venice Biennale figures are even worse than the gender biases seen in recent Australian exhibitions such as the past few Sydney Biennales. We pondered this for a while and wondered if the reason could be that in Europe there is not as much emphasis on gender balancing as there is in Australia. We suspect that in Australia, there might be an agenda by the curators and organizations to be mindful about showing both male and female artists equally. This appears not to be the case in Italy.

Curators of biennales are expected to show the best and most interesting art that they can find around the world. There is often a theme to these shows that determines selection, so the selection is not just the best art but the art that fits the theme. Often these themes can slide into being politically correct and predictable, and We don’t like the idea of curators having to have gender balance as an enforced politically correct agenda, but We do feel that without awareness of the balance a curator will have inbuilt biases towards male artists.

Bon Voyage!

LIST OF WOMEN ARTISTS in The Encyclopedic Palace @ 55th Venice Biennale 2013

Anna Zemankova

LIST OF WOMEN ARTISTS going solo for their country pavilion @ 55th Venice Biennale 2013

Nicola Costantino - Argentina
Simryn Gill - Australia
Shary Boyle - Canada
Joana Vasconcelos - Portugal
Sarah Sze - United States of America
Kata Mijatovic - Pavilion of Croatia

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Educating and exhibiting artists

The fact remains that twice as many female artists graduate from our art schools compared to male artists. 

Gender representation in a selection of 2011 Bachelor of Visual Art degree courses nationally
Data collected from 2011 graduation exhibition websites 
(Charles Darwin University not included as no data available)

Based on this fact you would expect to see twice the work exhibited to be by female artists in our public and commercial galleries and museums. CoUNTess has noted before how gender representation is reflected in the workplace of other female dominated degree programs.  

Gender representation in exhibitions from a selection (one from each state) of CAOS contemporary art space galleries

Even if half of graduating female artists turned out to be unambitious or uninteresting, then you should still expect to see half of the work exhibited to be by female artists. Yet, it’s not like that. Instead, what is represented in most galleries is the reverse of what the graduate statistics should lead us to expect.

Gender representation total in percentages of visual art graduates in 2011 and exhibiting artists in selected CAOS galleries (one selected from each state)

A third of artists exhibiting in CAOS galleries for example are women, yet women make up two thirds of art school graduates. That means that a female graduate has a much less chance of getting recognition and remuneration than a male graduate. 

CoUNTess numbers have consistently shown that women artists make up 60-65% of the artist population (the pool) yet get 33-40% of the pie, while male artists who make up 33-40% of the artist population get 60-65% of the pie.

Pie I have eaten / Pie I am yet to eat

Pie I have eaten / Pie I am yet to eat

For a few years now CoUNTess has been keeping tabs on gender representation in the Australian art world and sharing our findings via this blog.   We are pleased that all our number crunching is adding up to something and coming to the attention of the media and institutions.  Renown feminist journalist Anne Summers new online publication Anne Summers Report featured a report on CoUNTess on page 11.

And in The Age Sunday Dec 2nd CoUNTess gets a significant reference in an article by Fiona Grubber “Recasting the old masters club” pointing out how women working in Australia’s visual art institutions far outnumber men yet only a few are holding the top jobs. Nor were these credible women candidates touted as even being in the running for the recent directorial appointments at various state museums.  CoUNTess wonders why the art world is a place where the majority of administrative, curatorship and promotion positions at art institutions are filled by women (as Grubber points out the top job is more often than not a man) all the while exhibiting in the majority male artists CoUNTess believes, at the expense of their female colleagues?

There are a couple of points in Grubber's article of particular interest to CoUNTess as they address the social and economic climate that women artists are working in. The first is in reference to Sydney gallerist Roslyn Oxley

she sees gender bias in the marketplace all the time. Collectors tend to prefer male artists' work, and among the gallery's stable of mid-career artists, the men's earning capacity is significantly greater”

This is interesting because it pinpoints the issue of collector bias as important research for future attention in the posts of CoUNTess.  Anyone who visits art fairs, commercial galleries and auction houses can take note how often the price point for women artists is significantly lower than for work by men.  

The second point of interest is the reference to a statistic from the Australia Council, showing the gender of working artists and how much they earn.

“Being an artist is also twice as tough for women. Australia Council statistics from 2008 (the most recent available) reveal that two thirds of visual artists are women but that women in the arts (there are no separate income figures for visual artists) earn on average 50 per cent less than men.”

One way to influence collector bias is to ensure that public funding of art institutions is shared more equitably. If publicly funded galleries collected and exhibited with equitable recognition female artists,  would certainly raise the artists profile and elevate a collectors confidence to buy work by female artists. CoUNTess believes our public galleries should also be taking an interest in collecting and exhibiting art that is representative of what is being produced not just art that is being speculated upon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Contemporary Australia: Women

Contemporary Australia: Women was a surprising exhibition on the calendar this year, the second in the Contemporary Australia exhibitions, the first Optimism which included considerably more men than women artists 'Contemporary Australia: Women' redresses the balance considerably and includes 100% women artists. GOMA website says:

'Contemporary Australia: Women' includes more than 70 works in painting, sculpture, photography, installation, textiles, video, and performance. The exhibition will explore key themes such as ‘performing’ femininity; the place of personal and intimate spheres such as sexuality, the body, motherhood and ageing; the return to everyday materials; and the ways some artists are ‘redressing the canon’ of painting.

Gender applies to men just as it does to women yet it is predominantly women who are grouped and defined by it. Could an exhibition called 'Men' be staged, and if so would the show only include male artists? Could a woman artist also also engage with the male subject? At CoUNTess we think so as women can draw on their lifelong experience at identifying or coming to understand the centralised male protagonist.

Other all-women shows at large museums over the past couple of years such as WACK a touring exhibitions from MOCA or Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Elles at the Centre Georges Pompidou have influenced a contemporary agenda within the curating and museum landscape and effectively redistributing gallery wall space, but these all-gender shows can also be criticised for marginalising the artists they exhibit and women artists as a whole. Are audiences being asked to look at this art as a separate category from 'mainstream' art. As far as we can tell none of these exhibitions included any males artists, again this separates the concerns we are told women artists have as not influencing the 'mainstream' male art. A suggested heirarchy comes into play mens art is too often represented as referencing humanity, (why not just performing masculinity?) and in dialogue with art history while women's art needs its own separate category and therefore is adjunct or alternative to men's art.

While WACK and co place feminism front and centre to their curatorial premise the f word is hardly mentioned in the online and educational material for GOMA's Contemporary Australia: Women. The f word seems to be avoided as this show situates itself as celebrating the achievements of women artists the curator Julie Ewington is quoted in The Australian:

"What is the show about? It's about celebration and exploration. It's not about complaint, it's about what is being achieved."
And it is good to have a growing variety of exhibitions and practices and for these to be seen in our public museums, CoUNTess is behind these kinds of shows as they do raise the profile and work of women artists and that is a good thing. So while CoUNTess loves these enterprises the grand prize would be to see equal numbers of women in all contemporary art exhibitions.

Artists Featured
Amata painters (SA): senior artists, Tjampawa Katie Kawiny; Wawiriya Burton; Ruby Tjangawa Williamson; Iluwanti Ken; Tjungkara Ken; Paniny Mick
Rebecca Baumann (WA)
Lauren Brincat (NSW)
Brown Council (NSW): Frances Barrett; Kate Blackmore; Kelly Doley; Diana Smith
Kirsty Bruce (QLD)
Bindi Cole (VIC)
Agatha Gothe-Snape (NSW)
Marie Hagerty (NSW/ACT)
Fiona Hall (SA)
Natalya Hughes (NSW)
RuthHutchinson (VIC)
Deborah Kelly (NSW)
Justine Khamara (VIC)
Anastasia Klose (VIC)
Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano (VIC)
Jennifer Mills (VIC)
Kate Mitchell (NSW)
Rose Nolan (VIC)
Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward with Parachutes for Ladies (NSW): Hayley Forward; Jess Olivieri
Therese Ritchie (NT)
Sandra Selig (QLD)
Noël Skrzypczak (VIC)
Sally Smart (VIC)
Soda_Jerk (NSW): Dan Angeloro; Dominique Angeloro
Wakartu Cory Surprise (WA)
Hiromi Tango (QLD)
Monika Tichacek (NSW)
Jenny Watson (QLD)
Judy Watson (QLD)
Louise Weaver (VIC)
Justene Williams(NSW)
Gosia Wlodarczak (VIC)
Judith Wright (QLD)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Auditing the Order of CAOs 2011

click to enlarge

Artists who exhibited in solo and group shows in National CAOs galleries in 2011

by The Auditor

Auditing the Order of CAOs 2011
A few years ago we counted gender representation of CAOs (Contemporary Arts Organisations Australia). We found that most of CAOs public art spaces preferred showing the work male artists (60% male artists/40% female artists). We decided to see if the balance had improved since 2008 and looked at the same galleries over the 12 month program of 2011.

As in the past survey, we counted the main gallery spaces, for solo and group exhibitions (see full survey below). We were surprised and disappointed that the balance had worsened since 2008. Artspace had made a slight improvement, but most galleries had a significant bias towards showing male artists, except for 24HR art in Darwin.
The IMA (Institute of Men’s Art) in Brisbane fared the worst, showing hardly any women at all in their program.

click to enlarge

Column length
The amount and quality of text written about an artist can reflect the promotion and appreciation of their work. It's often the case that women artist's work gets less word coverage than their male counter-parts, and when they are written about, the authors can easily get distracted away from the artist to focus on other issues and male artists. In contrast, we are noticing a trend of more words and grander references when curators write about the work of male artists. Often curators get more mention than the female artists.

We decided to test this repetitive observation by measuring the length of text in centimetres published on the gallery’s web pages from the CAOs 2011 program and quickly confirmed that women artists do get much less written about them.

Each text was put into a word document with consistent font and settings. We got out our rulers and did the measurements. Text was measured if the author was discussing a particular artist’s work, and not counted when discussing general themes of a mixed gender group show for example.

click to enlarge
Text centimetres on artists who exhibited in solo and group shows in National CAOs websites in 2011

Unequal Share

We are interested in how public money is being spent in the arts. Public art spaces are primarily funded by the Australia Council so can we assume are subject to EEO in the workplace.

How does EEO work?
Part 9A of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act requires all public sector agencies to implement EEO programs. The aims of such EEO programs are to:
• ensure that the talents of all staff are fully recognised and used in accordance with the merit principle;
• redress past disadvantages;
• better meet customer service requirements;
• implement employment conditions which promote increased productivity; and
• achieve the redistribution of people in the EEO groups in all levels and classifications of work.

Are the Australia Council and public galleries intentionally flaunting government policy, or just being accidentally lazy in distributing funds to more male artists than female artists? If they think it is too hard to do the sums, we have done it in a few hours so why can’t they? Unless the Australia Council and the public galleries are more accountable for where their money is being spent they risk credibility and funding. None of us want that.
The Auditor