Tuesday, November 24, 2009


by the Handmaiden

While writing the Primavera article I was wondering whether being in an exhibition like Primavera would lead to other possibilities. Was it a foot in the door? Or the end of the line? Did it give the women included a leg up in the art world, or was that only the case for the male artists? To assess some of this I went back the Art and Australia publication Current, as I remembered thinking at the time it came out that some of the younger artists were those that had just been in Primavera.

One of things I like about Current is that it presents Australian artists along side those from New Zealand. For me, this inclusion acknowledges trans-Tasman dialogues, influences and migration. Current also featured the work of several Aboriginal and Maori artists with a diverse range of practices. Despite these positive attributes, the poor representation of women is disappointing.

In order to see how inclusion in Primavera might have contributed to their inclusion in Current, I created a graph with the dates of birth for each artist and highlighted the dates in yellow if the artist had been in Primavera. To have been eligible for the most recent Primavera you would have been born in 1973 or earlier. The latest you would have been born, in order to participate in a Primavera is 1959.

[click to enlarge]

Please note: The 4 artist in the Kingpins are listed individually, but will be counted as 1 in the following statistics.

If you look then at the ages group that are eligible for Primavera, or in an emerging category, 5 out of 8 female artists have been in Primavera and 8 out of 16 men. In the emerging category we can see that the Primavera would be a contributing factor for inclusion, particularly for women, but becomes less important as artist head into the mid-career zone.

The Primavera exhibitions that women participated in are 1992 then, after a large gap, to '03, with proceeding artists from '04, '07 and '08 exhibitions included. For men the spread is longer starting again with 1992 then '95, '96, '99, '01, '03, '04, '06, '07, '08 exhibitions represented through the choice of male artists. This, then, either indicates that Primavera leads onto more opportunities for men and/or that the kudos of being including in Primavera lasts longer for men than women.

After considering the Primavera information, the second thing I noticed was that there is an incredible age gap in the women included. Like Countesses findings for the Venice selection,  there is a real drop off in women in that 40’s age group - that of the “mid-career artist”. Of course, Current can hardly be considered a good source, given that it had such an overall poor representation of women, but it nonetheless interesting that it is the mid-career, rather than later or emerging artist that disappears from the sample.

So what else does Current tell us about the biases that might have been part of selection criteria, which might indicated why women are poorly represented. As John MacDonald pointed out in his negative review of the book, the choices for inclusion were developed by several committees; there was an Indigenous round table, as well as Art and Australia’s usual editorial board that was augmented by Justin Paton, Max Delaney and Victoria Lynn and Nick Waterlow OAM. As with any decision made by a committee, there would have been a fair amount of comprise, and there must have been many very good artists who just missed out on the cut. So the question here is what were some of the deciding factors that might have formed the decisions and cuts.

The sample of the eighty artists chosen is relatively small given their participation in the art world as a whole. And as the number of women artists are within that sample even lower (28%), I don’t suggest that these findings can be extrapolated out to the rest of the art world. However, what these findings indicate is that the path to success for men is wider and more diverse than women.

The model promoted here is that of the artist as represented by commercial galleries. Only one artist was not represented by a commercial gallery: Ah Xian. Two senior Aboriginal artists also present a slightly different model in that they are represented by their local arts centre: John Mawurndjul at Maningrida and Paddy Bedford at Jirrawun. Most artist (60%) were represented by two or more galleries. This statistic does not really tell us much, as there is a quite a difference in influence from being represented by Anthony d’Offey (London) or Roselyn Oxley9 as opposed to GRANTPIRRIE. Equally, being represented by four smaller galleries in the 4 main states is not the as same as being represented by Anna Schwartz in two states. But what this static indicates is that the artists in Current have the sorts of practices that fit and have been successful within the commercial gallery system. There are very few represented artists who use performance (Stelarc, Tony Schwensen and Monica Tichacek) and only one artist who uses dialogical exchange as central to his work – Danius Kesminas.

[click to enlarge]

So what are the trends?

If you are a women you will most likely be born after 1960 (49) and before 1950 (59): You will have had a feature article or review of your work in Art and Australia. You will currently use or have used photography as your chosen media, or one of your chosen media. Out of a possible 18 galleries, Roslyn Oxely9, Anna Schwartz or Arc One will represent you. In addition to your gallery in Australia you might also be represented overseas.

If you are a woman born after 1970: You probably have had review of your work in Art and Australia. You will work across media, probably working with new media, or making paintings. You have probably been in Primavera from 2003 to 2007. Out of a possible 9 galleries, you will show with Kaliman, Ivan Anthony, Gallery Barry Keldouis or Karen Woodbury.

Men, age is no barrier to your success whether you are in your 20’s or 60’s

If you are older than the median age of 41 (born 1967): You will have had a feature article or review of your work in Art and Australia. You will produce paintings or sculptures and installations. Out of a possible 26 galleries, Darren Knight, Hamish McKay, Kaliman, Anna Schwartz, Brook Gifford, Peter McLeavy or Tolarno will represent you. In addition to your gallery in Australia and/ or New Zealand you might also be represented overseas.

If you are younger than the median age of 41: You will have had a feature article or review of your work in Art and Australia. You will make painting, sculptures, and/or video installations. You might have been in a Primavera. Out of a possible 22 galleries, Roslyn Oxely9, Kaliman, Anna Schwartz or Uplands will represent you. In addition to your gallery in Australia you might also be represented overseas.

[click to enlarge]


Full list of Australian and New Zealand galleries with numbers of artists represented after each.
Roslyn Oxley9: 15, Kaliman: 12, Anna Schwartz: 10, Hamish McKay: 8, Darren Knight: 7, Tolarno: 7, Ivan Anthony: 6, Peter McLeavy; 5, Brook Gifford: 4; GBK: 4, Sutton: 4, Uplands; 4, Arc One: 3, Sue Crockford: 3, Micheal Lett: 3, Yuill Crowley: 2, Mori: 2, Karen Woodbury: 2, Criterion: 2, Sullivan and Strumpf: 2, BREENSPACE: 2, GRANTPIRRIE: 2, Lister: 1, Jan Murphy: 1, Sarah Cottier: 1, William Mora: 1, Jirrawun: 1, Maningrida: 1, Papunya Tula: 1, Utopia: 1, Gabriel Pizzi: 1, Jan Minton: 1, Scott Livery: 1, Stark White: 1, Ray Hughes; 1, Greenaway: 1, Gow Lansford: 1, Rex Irwin: 1, Milani: 1, Murray White: 1, McNamara Photography: 1, Brett McDowell: 1, Stills: 1, Brigitte Braun: 1, Jan Manton:1, Chapman: 1, Shubert Contemporary: 1, Tim Oslen: 1, Turner: 1, Johnstone: 1.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


by the Handmaiden

Primavera, the MCA’s annual exhibition of young Australian artists, is almost over, so I though I would cast an eye over its history of gender representation. The exhibition started in 1992 as a memorial by the Jackson family to their daughter and sister, Belinda Jackson. 2009 sees the exhibition “come of age” with its 18th outing. Even though the sample of artists is quite small, given the numbers of artist practicing in Australia, I wondered whether Primavera would yield some interesting long-term data of gender representation and what shifting attitudes in the Australian art world are tracked through its history.

See the footnote below this post for an explanation of the categories of artists.

Primavera in general:
Primavera has been curated by a combination of staff and independent curators. In the period from 2000-present they have mostly been independent. In the period 1992 to 1994 Primavera was an exhibition of 3 to 4 individual artists. The artists came mostly from NSW or Victoria (read: Sydney or Melbourne) with usually one artist in the show from Perth, Adelaide or Brisbane.

From 1995 to 1999 the number of artist grew to 6 to 7 and again, during this period, artists mostly resided in Sydney or Melbourne. 1997 was an exception in this period, it was curated by the Aboriginal artist Rea and was the first exhibition which not only included Indigenous artists, but also artists from outside of Sydney and Melbourne -  in this case Tasmania and Brisbane, who outnumber those from the centres. In both these periods the artists included practiced as individuals rather than in collaborations or groups.

In 2000 the exhibition grew to 9 artists, and began to be consistently a more nationally focussed exhibition, including artists from all the smaller states. It is in this period that the types of artists' practice also become more diverse, with the inclusion of new media and also different models of artist practice such as collaboration. In 2002 the collaborative duos of Nat and Ali (2 women) and Bunter and Frost (2 men) appeared, and since then nearly every year has included some form of collaboration.

This national focus is probably not surprising given the increased availability of air travel with Virgin Blue and Jetstar, not only for the curators to make studio visits, but also that artists themselves are more mobile and participate in self-organised events across the states that gain them national visibility. Additionally it’s in this time period that we have seen the growing national trend for emerging artist events, shows and grants.

So how about gender?
Over the 18 years of Primavera’s history there have been 8 exhibitions where female artists outnumber male artists, and 4 where the genders where represented evenly. Some exhibitions where women significantly outnumber men where 1998, curated by Ben Curnow 5/1, Felicity Fenner 6/3 in 2005, and Christine Morrow 6/3 in 2007. This seems quiet amazing, given that feminism was never a “theme”. Could Primavera be one of the only re-occurring exhibitions in Australia that has such positive representation of women? Additionally only 4 of the 16 curators have been men. Congratulations MCA for such positive numbers!

Gender repesentation of artists in Primavera
click on image to enlarge

The exhibitions where men outnumber women are as follows: 1999 curated by Rachel Kent with 2 women to 4 men; 2003, Julianna Pierce with 1 women 6 men, 1 artistic duo, 1 male duo, and 1 all girl group (Kingpins); 2006, Aaron Seeto, 4 women, 8 men and 1 mixed duo; and this year, 2009, curated by Jeff Kahn 2 women, 5 men and 1 female duo.

The year that had the lowest representation, with women participating in 3 of a total of 10 artworks, was the “new media” Primavera curated by Julianna Pierce.

In general, the trend for gender representation since 2000 has been alternating between exhibitions where either men or women significantly outnumber each other interspersed with exhibitions where the genders are more or less equal.

Here are the stats since 2000:

Gender repesentation of artists in Primavera since 2000
click on image to enlarge

Each case study that Countess has looked at has a kind of flavour where the stats start to show something that you may not have noticed while wandering through a magazine or exhibition enjoying the art. For me the two interesting results of the Primavera crunch relate to location and education. All information is based on what an artist had done at time of inclusion in Primavera, with information coming from the catalogue and internet searches. 2009 biographic information is excluded from the below statistics and trends.

Nearly all of the artists included in Primavera live and work in city centres, with the majority of those in Melbourne. While curators seems perfectly happy to jet off to Melbourne and enjoy a couple of days of studios visits and nice cafes, there seems to be some reluctance to get onto a train or the freeway and explore the edges of Sydney, or the garages, spare rooms and fast food joints of Canberra, Wollongong, Newcastle and Western Sydney... let alone the far reaches of the interior or the tropics. Jeff Kahn adds an exception to this rule in 2009, with artist Roderick Sprigg based in the outer wheat belt of WA. Below are the stats for state distribution -  remembering, this really means Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide etc. The trend of artists moving from smaller centres like Perth and Canberra to places like Melbourne and Sydney is small and hidden in these statics.

Artist distribution across the states, with first year each state was represented in Primavera.

Total sample 128 (the 2009 Primavera not included)

Repesentation of artists by state in Primavera
click on image to enlarge

Note: Yukultji Napangati (Pintupi language group) divides her time between two communities across the WA and NT borders. I have included her as a separate statistic because her location is not adequately described by state boundaries.

The primary factor for inclusion in Primavera is education. Only 3 artists from the 132 total did not have any form of tertiary education. Two of these artists are Aboriginal artists living in remote locations (Napangati and Pedro Wonaeamirri both in 2005). Only 5 Aboriginal artists are included in the whole of the history of Primavera, and it is access to education, or the form and content of tertiary education as an arbiter of successful practice that must be questioned here.

The MCA decision as to whether to include biographic information is reflected in the continually changing form and design of the exhibition catalogue. As a resource and future research tool I would ask the MCA to consider including this biographical information with education histories. For those artists that did not have their biographic education included I searched the internet. Interestingly I found that it was the female artists who where not present on the web to provide that information (in 7 cases as opposed to 1 male). Sometimes these women had a web presence on a commercial gallery site, but not all of these included education information.

Reading through the biographical information over the 18 years tracks the shift from TAFE skills training (e.g. foundation year at Prahran College) to university degrees. It details the amalgamations of art schools to universities: e.g. Queensland College of Art becomes Griffith University and Canberra School of Art becomes ANU SoA, with resulting Graduate Diplomas becoming Honours years. The first postgraduate being a Masters of Visual Arts, appears in the sample 1998 and then every year after that includes at least one artist with a postgraduate degree. The Samstag Scholarship, first awarded in1993, has funded 7 out of the 21 post grads. Unsurprisingly, given the high numbers of women in undergraduate and postgraduate degree at universities, there were 13 women artists as opposed to men 8 with these higher degrees.

As 'university education is the pathway to successful practice' is the model confirmed in Primavera, the next question is which institutions? To get the below statics I counted each degree once, so from a total of 120 artists biographical details there are 165 studies counted.

No real surprise here with Melbourne artists the majority in the sample: VCA is the largest institution who's alum are represented in Primavera, with 20% of artists having gone there, followed by SCA with 13.3%. Only the 1993 Primavera did not have a graduate from VCA, with 1999 the only year SCA did not have a graduate included. As the University of Melbourne is currently squeezing the VCA into the “Melbourne Model” you have to wonder about whether is such a good idea given the past success of its graduates. Both CoFA (7.8%) and RMIT (10.3%) the next largest groups, do not appear in the sample till 1998 and 1999 respectively.

So who is a Primavera artist?
To be in Primavera you will be about 28 and live in a metropolitan centre, mostly likely Melbourne. You would have gone to art school, most likely from VCA or SCA 4 to 6 years ago. If you’re a women, you are more likely to have a Masters or PhD than your male counterpart. If you are male, you are more likely had some time off studies, either between TAFE and uni, or between 3rd and Honours years than your female co-exhibitors.

This model excludes as many artists as it includes. I have heard chit chat that Primavera is looking tired and should no longer exist. I think it would be a pity to loose an exhibition that has been so good for women. Perhaps the curators should just start to look beyond Melbourne to find different voices and visions.

------- (footnotes)
I am using the same categories as I did the articles on Broadsheet. Each collaboration is counted as one project/artist, however their education histories are individually counted (if provided). Collaborations are divided as mixed duos (1 male and 1 female artist) female duos, male duos. A “group” means a groups of more than two artists where the gender is mixed (PVI), and a female group that of more than two artists where the artist are all women (Kingpins).

Other Primavera quick facts:
The average age of an artist in Primavera is 27 to 28 the youngest being 23 and the oldest 36. The age spread is more or less the same across both genders. The exhibition with the youngest average age was 1997 (Rea): 25 and the oldest 1995 (Cramer): 32 and 1998 (Curnow): 32. Primavera has bridged a generation with the oldest artists born in 1959 and the youngest 1983, making the oldest 24 when the youngest artists were born.

The number of artist included in Primavera range from 3 in 1993 (Micheal), to 13 in 2006 (Seeto).

The most highly educated year was 2005 (Fenner) (oddly given that it also included two artist with no tertiary education) with 4 artists put of 9 with Post Grads and the remaining 3 with tertiary education, having done honours AND either TAFE training or secondary education diplomas.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Grand Final week

CoUNTess has been terribly busy of late and apologizes for the thin postings. There is a running sheet accumulating post topics that require number crunching that keeps getting longer and longer; thanks to those readers who post-in suggestions they will be replied to. We aim to post according to schedule, but sometimes something comes along that one just can't ignore for its unapologetic and open discrimination against women artists.

That's the 2010 Basil Sellers Art Prize

CoUNTess is not wincing, as the press release suggests about chaffed thighs (thats easily remedied), but rather flinching at the blatant gender imbalance of 12 men and 3 women (two of whom collaborate) in the list of finalists. Dencorub would be a soothing balm amidst this list's overwhelming smell of jock straps - the line-up for the second $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize. $100,000 to anyone is a windfall and, most likely, a life changing event. And with the statistics we've gathered, on this occasion it is seemingly a straight-up fantasy for the women artists who entered the prize. It can't just be CoUNTess who is wondering, why so few women artists?

While the judges selected 1 in 16 male artists, they effectively chose 1 in 133 women artists. That the collaborative duo are women is also significant in terms of increasing the total women in the list of finalists from 1 to 3. Without knowing the gender make up of the other collaborators CoUNTess is not in a position to effectively crunch those numbers.

So congratulations to Perth based collaborative duo Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont and Melbourne photographer Ponch Hawkes. Bookmakers would go bankrupt the odds - 1 in 133.

The press release boasts "...On paper, the list of finalists looks diverse, even eclectic." How can 85% male artists be diverse? They may be eclectic, but lets judge that when we see the show.

CoUNTess is privy to the knowledge that some excellent works by women artists were submitted and is aghast at the flagrantly biased outcome of the finalist selection, and wonders why or how this judging panel could possibly agree to it and what message do they think it sends to the general public about women's art, and the direct message it sends to women artists who applied or may aspire to apply in the future.

The mantra of sport being a national obsession is at media saturation point over the next week, with grand finals in Melbourne and Sydney. Sport is an arena where media attention and its subsequent flow-ons of sponsorship — and therefore income and support — are severely weighted towards men and their achievements. It seems that art is very comfortable in this position as well.

The list of entrants shows a split of 60/40 - a fairly average outcome in many of CoUNTesses previous number crunches, but then you take a look at how that pie really divvies up... It would be interesting to know the gender breakdown of the entrants who had re-applied in this round, and compare these to last years numbers and see what stories they might tell?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Venice Biennale 2009

The CoUNTess has just returned from touring the 53rd Venice Biennale with a dismal number of represented women artists to report. This first post is counting the artists who were selected to exhibit in the national pavilions. Women artists were 46 out to a total of 189 thats 24.3%. The national pavilions may have a single solo artist, or assemble a range of artists, or curate a group show. Eleven national pavilions held solo shows by women artists in total 27.5% while 29 men went solo for their country, 72.5% in total.

The CoUNTess believes that pavilions who hosted large group shows have no excuse for not including women in them. Indeed, these were the worst offenders; Italy - 17 men and 2 women, China - 7 men and 0 women, Denmark and Nordic Countries - 18 men and 5 women, Azerbaijan - 7 men and 1 woman, Croatia - 3 men and 0 women, Syrian Arab Republic - 9 men and 0 women and Istituto Italo-Latino Americano pavillion has 13 men and 2 women.

As all these artists have been individually selected by their countries (who have an official pavilion of course) one would have to conclude that female artists are unfashionable right now. Very unfashionable at 24.3% - that's not even a quarter. We will crunch the numbers in our next post of the exhibition curated by the Biennale director Daniel Birnbaum Making Worlds.

The 2009 Venice Biennale has only 46 women artists in the national pavilions - 24.3% of the total number of 189 artists.

Pink is a wedge in a sea of blue

It's a mans world when it comes to representing your country solo

While The CoUNTess loves to pour over the CV section of those giant catalogues they are a bitch to cart home, so the counting for this post has been conducted online. Names must be clarified, genders distinguished. A pattern emerged where if gender wasn't mentioned in the first two paragraphs of an artist's bio it was more likely an article about a woman artist - a fact often buried deep in paragraph four or five. A new category has emerged as The CoUNTess wonders 'why so few women artists' - an amalgamation of both age and gender breakdown. What age is an artist most likely to be selected to exhibit in this world cup of art events? Those CVs are like racing guides.

There is a group whose dates of birth could not be determined. The youngest artists are born in the 1980s and this category is pretty even in terms of gender representation, with women artists making up 44%. The women born in the 70s are the largest group in the women's total, but still only represent 35% of all artists in this age bracket.

The largest group of artists showing in this years 53rd Venice Biennale national pavillions are those born in the 1960s, These artists are now 40-50 years old and would be considered mid-career and established, and ergo a relatively safe selection. In this group it is astonishing that women only make up 15% while men make up 84%. Living women artists having so little representation in this influential age group is so disappointing.

Women a generation older and born in the 1950s, and having developed in the 80s and 90s when feminism made its strongest impact in the artworld, seem to have retained some foothold,  representing 25%. The category of senior artists born prior to 1950 includes only 1 women artist, Gayane Khachaturian of Armenia born in 1942, while there were 17 senior male artists. This last category really suggests a bleak future for all women artists and artists in general. The median age, before the graph heads south for a woman artist is 35; the instinct is to yell back at the figures the obvious: "women don't just stop making art at 40." So where are the women? Are these numbers the forensic site of a feminist backlash? We hope so.

With these numbers what could the future be for the legacy and tradition of women artists?

Gayane Khachaturian - Armenia
Claire Healy - Australia
Elke Krystufek - Austria
Dorit Margreiter - Austria
Franziska Weinberger - Austria
Naila Sultan - Azerbaijan
Thora Dolven Balka - Denmark and Nordic Countries
Laura Horelli - Denmark and Nordic Countries
Klara Liden - Denmark and Nordic Countries
Nina Saunders - Denmark and Nordic Countries
Kristina Norman - Estonia
Owanto - Republic of Gabon
Nadine Hilbert - Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Sarah Browne - Ireland
Elisa Sighicelli - Italy
Miwa Yanagi - Japan
Haegue Yang - Korea
Evelina Deicmane - Latvia
Teresa Margolles - Mexico
Fathiya Tahiri - Morocco
Fiona Tan - The Netherlands
Judy Millar - New Zealand
Francis Upritchard - New Zealand
Andrea Faciu - Romania
Gosha Ostretsov - Russia
Irina Korina - Russia
Marialuisa Tadei - Republic of San Marino
Nico Macina - Republic of San Marino
Elisa Monaldi - Republic of San Marino
Michela Pozzi - Republic of San Marino
Thea Tini - Republic of San Marino
Katarina Zdjelar - Serbia
Silvia Bachli - Switzerland
Sudsiri Pui-ock - Thailand
Wantanee Siripattananuntakul - Thailand
Banu Cennetoglu - Turkey
Lanava Gargash - United Arab Emerates
Gabriela Croes - Venezuela
Magdalena Fernindez - Venezuela
Bernardita Rakos - Venezuela
Antonieta Sosa - Venezuela
Oksana Shatalova - Kazakhstan
Yelena Vorobyeva - Kazakhstan
Ermek Jaenisch - Kyrgyzstan
Sandra Gamarra - Peru
Raquel Paiewonsky - Dominican Republic

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Black Out

Destiny Deacon, the Goodie Hoodie Family, Whacked, 2007, Lightjet print from Polaroid original

by the Handmaiden

No matter how poor the numbers for women artists are in Broadsheet, they are even worse for Aboriginal artists. In the three years covered by the sample there was one review of an Aboriginal focussed exhibition: Cultural Warriors; two features, both on Richard Bell (a Man of Action); a couple of mentions in reviews for BOS 06, and News from Islands; and one image in two opinion articles about the Blake Prize for Religious Art (Shirley Purdie, Stations of the Cross, 2007).

One possible reason for this low coverage is that many Indigenous artists make paintings and the questions raised by artwork in this medium, do not coincide with the interests of the magazine. While it is not Broadsheet's responsibility to cover all shows and issues current in Australian art dialogues, and while Aboriginal artists received excellent coverage in other magazines like Art Monthly and Art Collector, it does seem very poor.

This poverty of coverage was amplified for me by the lack of 'Opinion' type articles focussed on the apology to the Stolen Generations by Prime Minster Rudd. In the three years of the sample, there were many 'Opinion' pieces written quickly in response to current events. These include, among others, articles on the APEC gathering in Sydney, the legacy of the Howard years, the Sedition laws and the 'Henson affair'.

In the first issue for 2008, which probably was very close to, if not printing, at the time of the apology on February the 13th, there were two 'Opinion' pieces responding to Charles Merewether comments in an article by Sebastian Smee in the Australian (5/11/07), where he claimed that Australia is parochial and insular, with no culture of ongoing discussion. No matter how frustrating Merewether’s comments may have been, they pale into insignificance when compared with the apology, its potential impact, and the questions it raised in the ongoing need for reconciliation. I hope that the 'Opinion' writers have considered what can be added to the dialogues around the apology and reconciliation one year on. I am sure I am not the only one looking forward to reading them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Broadsheet Part 2

By The Handmaiden

After counting the last three years of BroadsheetI found that images by women make up 15% of the total and the discussion of women in the content varied from 25 to 32%, depending on the type of article. Was the low representation of women a case of omission by focussing on other issues?

Broadsheet in recent years has had an increased focus on the Asian region. The majority of these articles in the 3-year sample, particularly those from China and Japan, featured the work of male artists. I asked myself whether this focus was contributing to the low representation of women artists in the magazine. However it seems that when you break down the numbers of articles by year, the statistic of women’s work in the illustrations follows those of the overall sample. For example in the 2006, the year of the lowest number of Asian articles, there was a corresponding low number of women’s images in the total. For the three years of the sample, feature articles on women’s work never gets above 3 per year, no matter the number of Asian articles. The only thing that changes there is the ratio to features on male artists.

Feature Articles Broadsheet 2006-2008 [click to enlarge]

So while the focus on Asia may be a contributing factor, it is not the main, or only factor that lowers the representation of women in general. Interestingly, it was also the Asian region where the most feminist-focussed articles originated (e.g. Nge, vol.37 no.1; and Ingham and Dirgantoro vol.36 no.1) Additionally, there are several women writers in the region to have regularly contributed in the last three year such as Biljana Ciric and Wulandani Dirgantoro.

In only counting the last three years I asked myself whether there would have been a greater representation of women in Volumes 34 (2005) and 33 (2004) given there where more women work on the covers in these years. In the years I counted (2006-2008) there were 4 issues with women’s work on the cover. The average statistic of photographs of work by women inside these issues was 12.8% compared with 15% as the percentage in the 3-years. In only one issue, did the percentage rise above the average to 19.3% and in two issues the percentage was as low as 8.6%.

Percentage of images from Broadsheet issues in 2006-07 with a women’s work on the cover. [click to enlarge]

What this suggests is that cover is no indicator of contents - if a woman’s work is on the cover there is no need to put women work on the inside. So even though volumes 34 and 33 had more female artist's work on the covers, there may have not been any greater representation of their work inside and therefore no better representation of women’s work in those preceding years not counted in the survey.

I then began to question whether the lower coverage of women work was due to potentially lower numbers in the exhibitions reviewed. The Sydney Biennales of 2008 and 2006 offer a useful test case given the large difference in gender representation in each exhibition. Additionally, as there where a number of articles on this exhibition I am not singling out any one writer for criticism. The 2008 Biennale had 25% women in the exhibition. The percentage of female artists mentioned in these interviews was 25% compared with 70% male. These percentages seem to reflect the representation of women in that exhibition. However, for the coverage of 2006 BOS where women made up 50% equal to that of the male representation, this trend was not repeated; the trend repeated was that of an underrepresentation of women in media coverage. In this year women made up only 36% of the media coverage compared to 62% of male artists.

Biennale of Sydney 2006-08, Articles that mention artists and Illustrations to articles [click to enlarge]

This statistic of women making up a third of the coverage in 2006 BOS reviews is similar to the general statics over the 3-year sample. At this point it would interesting to see if this one-third media coverage is reflected in other magazines and other exhibitions, so watch this space. However, while the work of women is mentioned half as often in reviews, in Broadsheet, 32.2% compared with male 62.3%; the images chosen to illustrate these articles is more often the work of men 71.6% compare with 19.6% women. So who is making the picture and article selection? What checks and balances are there in place to address the low number of women present?

The majority of images in Broadsheet contain a person, either as portraits of an interviewee, news images that included people or artworks that show the artist or another person (regardless of gender) in the work. Performance artists and new media artists who have images of themselves in their own work are the artists best represented across the three-year sample. Is it in part due to the black and white printing of the magazine and that perhaps an image of a person holds a fascination which transcends the reduce format?

I do not have enough information on the processes of writing and formatting of Broadsheet to answer definitively. Do writers request their articles to be illustrated by certain works? Are institutions or individual artists not supplying enough quality images for there to be a better cross-section? What power or influence does the advisory board have in deciding what gets reviewed and written? Alan Cruickshank is both the editor and designer of Broadsheet. No matter what the external factors are preventing the inclusion of women, certainly the final responsibility would lie with him.

Whatever the reason for Cruickshank's personal preference for images including people by male artists, the overwhelming sensation of reading three years worth of Broadsheet in a few weeks (ok- I scanned some of the articles) was that the presentation of the role of the artist is that of a Man of Action. By this I mean that Broadsheet preferences work by artists wherein artist subjectivity — and by extension here, male artist subjectivity — was central to the formation and enacting of their work. Perhaps this merely reflects Broadsheet's interest in process-based practices, albeit a very limited exploration, ignoring those artists who use graphic and sculptural forms. I started to wonder whether this was some essential gender difference between male artist and female artists, with men more readily take up the role of the visible maker and protagonist of action. However, to accept this argument felt like ignoring the many interesting and radicalising works by women over the 100 plus years of the feminist movement that questioned and opened up the role of artists and the categories of art.

It seems to me that Broadsheet is interested in promoting work that provides some sort of social criticism and/or work they perceive as 'avant-garde' and transgressive. Further, that Broadsheet sees itself promoting Australian and Asian artists in a potential gap in the international tradition of the avant-garde. Nothing much wrong with that you might say except the question of why are they mostly promoting male artists?

Perhaps by focussing so narrowly on male artists who use the human form in some way in their performance/new media practice, Broadsheet have unwittingly created a canon of this kind of work i.e. a tradition. I contend that the model of the artist within this tradition, created and perpetuated through the number of articles and images focusing on this work, is too closely aligned to that of the Artist as Hero- a form as limiting to male artists as it is to the women generally excluded from it.

What is the explanation then for why men’s work is considered more closely connected to the larger questions of Australia and contemporary society that are addressed in 'Opinion' articles. Does a Woman of Action have a connotation that is old fashion (we did it in the 1970’s) or somehow not useful to these writers? Or it simply, as one commentator put it, mainstream culture is male culture - and that Broadsheet has no interest in questioning that.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Is The Art Life "just like saying the boys life"?

The CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com have cast a gendered eye over the most popular art blog in Australia, The Art Life, to see where they stand as far as gender representation is concerned.

The Art Life blog began in February 2004 under a cloak of anonymity, an independent voice critiquing art, curators, galleries and the art media. Five years later it has practically become an institution and now has its own television show. Sadly we have discovered that gender balance for The Art Life is just like most other art media and follows the old familiar conventions where male artists make up the majority of their content. CoUNTess wonders why this fact always goes unmentioned.

CoUNTess has counted the last twelve months of The Art Life's 178 posts which can be categorised into the following groups: articles about single artists, artists mentioned in general articles, attributed images, interviewed artists, new work artists and videos by and about artists.

There were 18 articles that were primarily about a single artist and only 3 were about women artists (Linda Marrinon, Fiona Hall and Adrian Piper) while male artists were the subject of 15 posts (Ai Weiwei, Bill Viola, Michael Riley, Darren Sylvester, Callum Innes, Frank Littler, Bill Henson (like a milion times) David Mandella, Cai Guo-Qiang, Sam Leach, Otto Dix, Martin Creed etal). These articles were generally in response to museum shows, or retrospectives and most are "branded" A-list artists. These artists have already passed through several gate keepers, they are artists accepted and shown by mainstream and superstar dealers, they are on the whole considered 'international', or even the most collectable on our national scale.

One would assume from the evidence that the current natural order is that the majority of shows and artists are men. But it is also interesting how this idea is reinforced in the general language, reception and context that work by different genders receives. For example the wistful not-quite-there-yet tone of the first paragraph on Linda Marrinon;

They come loitering down a runway, into Linda Marrinon’s sixth solo show Figure Sculpture II at Roslyn Oxley9 [until March 1]. Beautiful troopers that they are, it’s hard not to wish for a battalion rather than the mere eleven figures that carry on from the sculptor’s last figure collection. But perhaps there’s something about the exclusivity of the bevy that adds to its sense of preciousness, a gem-like quality that makes these little (mostly) women seem as if they’ve been dug up from the earth after years of rest.

compared to the gushfest on Darren Sylvester

Mister Darren Sylvester's exhibition of photographic prints, painting and sculpture at Sullivan & Strumpf [until Saturday] is a beguiling and seductive collection of art poised, like a plastic surgeon's scalpel, over the skin of contemporary life.

This is a remarkable show of sophistry by an artist working so deeply in the realm of double blinded irony and signifier play that the possibility of meaning has become vertiginous. Yet this is no simple retreat from a task many of his peers shun as too difficult. The disavowal of meaning, particularly in contemporary photographic work is a familiar trope, often consisting of nothing but a refusal to commit to anything more than the surface of the print. We are all familiar with this type of work. Vistas of banality that resort to arguments of reflection to justify their contempt for depth.

click image to see larger

While the single artist articles make up about 10% of the total posts, the majority of Art Life articles review large museum shows, or survey a number of exhibitions. In these posts we counted the times an artist was mentioned as the subject, or reference in the article (each artist was only counted once per article) Individual women artists were mentioned 63 times, while male artists were mentioned 205 times.

Of note in this category are the reviews/responses to the 16th Sydney Biennale. In an interview with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev she claims

So as a feminist I've never done an exhibition of art by women, it think that's anti-feminist to do that. I mean I would never do an exhibition about the sensibility of an – only artists who are gay, for example, I would never do that, I find that racist, I find that wrong. So my way of being um, against those ah … inequalities which I think there are, my way of doing it is not to, to isolate and celebrate, I think that’s hypocritical. But to break the boundaries and bring together, that's what I like to do.

If the Biennale "revolutions" were to break boundaries and "bring together" they had little to do with the work of women artists in the show. In all the reviews, responses to the Biennale of Sydney posted on The Art Life there were only four women mentioned: Lia Perjovschi, Destiny Deacon, Tracy Moffatt and one work that was critiqued that of Adrian Piper. While the work of 11 male artists in the Biennale were mentioned and discussed including William Kentridge (3 times), Mike Parr (3 times) Vernon Ah Kee (twice), Pierre Huyghe (twice), Nedko Solakov (twice) Malevich (twice) and Richard Bell, Giuseppe Penone, Stuart Ringholt, Robert Smithson and Ross Gibson. There were also two articles Where is Philip Gunston, and Much More Than WYSIWYG that wonder why two male painters works are not included in the show. Countess feels the more pressing question is why only 26% or a quarter of the artists in the show were women?

Two other post categories are 'New Work' and 'Interviews'. In these categories the featured artists provide the text and images for the articles. In 'New Work' 10 were by women artists and 13 by male artists, while the 'interviews' have been with 7 women artists and 6 male artists, making these the two most balanced categories. It is interesting that it is these categories where the artist has a voice and that it is in these categories that gender equality is most balanced. Why would this be? Is it because unlike the artist, the art writers function is to generate approval and sanction an artists career? And in the process ensure their own future employment from editors? Or gain university research points for backing the winning horse and thereby ensuring ongoing relevance? That more-so than the artists, they are invested in playing to the system?

click image to see larger

The images counted are of all the attributed images showing an artists artwork, and include images from press releases in Art Life's 'Exhibition What's On' category (a category impossible to count in terms of gender as they are made up of press releases for all manner of group and solo shows). Over the past 12 months there have been 61 images by women artists and 115 images by male artists. The CoUNTesses are unclear if The Art Life publish all submissions to the 'What's On' category, but we have counted the images never the less as they still expose an artists work to the blog's readership.

Embedded videos have also been counted - the videos have been attributed to men if they are work by male artists and/or are about male artists. These total 32, while videos about and/or by women artists is 7.

CoUNTess invites readers to count previous years of The Art Life under the same categories and we will publish the results.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I am not a feminist until ...

The discussion, as we trickle back into the CoUNTess offices with summer glows, have been about the feedback received since starting the blog. Some responses have been made in the comments, others emailed directly to count.esses@gmail.com, and fellow art lovers have told us how CoUNTess has been making impressions in a variety of ways from student discussions to gallery board meetings.

To the war monger we say no we are not starting a war. Though we are flattered that CoUNTess is seen as a rival faction just for reminding art lovers how skewered the gender balance in the art world is. CoUNTess's goal is to get art lovers thinking about gender representation, noticing it, and saying something. CoUNTess's motto is to speak up and raise awareness of the situation so that curators, editors, galleristas, writers and artists will think twice about how they view and select the art we all get to see.

With the world wide financial crisis going down, CoUNTess is not the only mob taking account of over-hyped markets. Another punter asked what gender balance would make CoUNTess happy? The answer to that question is no less than 50/50 would be perfectly fine with us. We want a vast improvement on the imbalance we have so far counted, which seems to be around 35% women and 65% men. Why should women artists and the art-loving public be satisfied with a third?

Commenter Fred Friendly's suggested CoUNTess might be looking for stats that support our opinion of gender imbalance and we need to widen our research. However, we believe our numbers are straight and we can assure you we are sitting on no evidence so far that tells a different story. The CoUNTesses are up for the challenge. We have quite a few projects on the boil in 2009. A sneak preview of these stats seems to suggest that while women dominate the numbers of art students, they represent an equal 50% of the artists exhibiting in artist run spaces, about only 30% in commercial galleries and art journals, and up to 40% in public contemporary art spaces. The glass ceiling is completely visible, but is the elephant in the room that nobody talks about. Well not any more.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Broadsheet #1 – The Count

By the Handmaiden

In September 2008 the Countesses posted an article about the number of female artists appearing in the latest issue of Broadsheet. As an anonymous commenter, I suggested that the sample was not big enough to get a good idea of whether the CoUNTess @blogspot's findings were indicative of Broadsheet's average. Fred Friendly also commented that there should also be some qualitative, or quantitive measure to the calculation, as the Countesses had counted each name giving it the same value. I decided to survey the last 3 years to get a bigger picture.

For an explanation of how these numbers where arrived at please see the bottom of each graph and the end of the article of an explanation of the method.

The following statics are taken from the last three years of Broadsheet issues, Volumes 35 (2006) to 37 (2008), a total of 12 issues, 156 articles (113 written by men, 40 by women, 3 group or un-authored) and 393 images.

In order to try and introduce some quantitive measure without counting column inches, I have broken the articles in types: Review, Opinion, Feature, Text, Interview, Book Review, Round Table. The statistics for each category are listed separately below. As Broadsheet is a magazine that is responding to exhibitions, general world news and art events such as conferences, many of its articles are in some way a “review”. I have created these categories in order to give a sense of the amount of discussion.

The general statics are: images by women make up 15% of the total and in the content, number of feature articles or mentions in reviews etc, varies from 25 to 32% depending on the category. Below are the statics for content broken up by category with additional graphs of the photos used to illustrate each.

Images of artworks from before 1900 are counted as “other”.
 Examples of images from this category are: covers of books, portraits of interviewees, photographs of locations and news images.

It is Broadsheet's “review and opinion” or responsive nature, to both exhibitions and world news and their possible implications for visual culture, which gives the publication its flavour, and differentiates it from other magazines. While what follows could be read as a criticism of the magazine, it in no way suggests that Broadsheet should change its mix or focus. The questions arise more as: What are the qualities of art by men which make it more readily referential to world events and theoretical texts, and hence used to illustrate Broadsheet's articles? What are the conditions of production and display that are being reflected in Broadsheet? Why do these conditions favour men? These questions will be fleshed out in a second post.

The first and easiest part - the covers: 7 men, 4 women, and 1 collaborative duo. However over a 5 year period this becomes almost even with 9 male, 8 female, 1 collaborative duo, 1 group and 1 “other” image (photo by Kim Machan, curator MAAP Singapore, 2004) The question of whether the cover is indicative of the contents I will return to in the next post.

TOTAL FEATURES: A “Feature” is an article that discusses the work of one or, at most, two artists/collaborative duos/groups. It may take an interview format. If the writer makes a reference to another artist in creating context for the featured artist, this is not counted. (Although a statistic on the number and types of references would be interesting.)

OPINION : An “opinion” article is one where the majority of an article is given over to the discussion of a theme, issue or concern. For example: a discussion of the re-sale royalty; a review of the Asia Pacific Triennial where 5 columns of the 7 column article is spent discussing Brisbane’s new museums; a review of a biennale that focuses solely on critiquing the curators theme or biennales in general; a reportage of the protests during the Sydney APEC gathering. Usually the references to artworks and artists in these articles are shorter. In this case all artists mentioned (often in a list) are counted as the writer is often expecting the reader to already have some knowledge of their work.

REVIEW: A “review” is an article where the whole, or nearly all, of the article is given to discussing the work in an exhibition. In these, artists’ work is generally given some word length and not listed (although not all cases). In a “review” artists are only counted if there work is under discussion, if the writer makes a reference to another artist this reference is not counted eg. “With artist like Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic and Ulay as exemplars, Schwensen’s twenty–four hour on the scales…” (Phillips; vol 36, no.1) counted as 1-male (Schwensen).

These statics raise two questions: Are the numbers of female artist included in reviews reflective of the number of women in exhibitions generally? Why is it that women make up 32.2% of the content but only 19.6% of the images? These questions I will return to in my second post.

Individual artists were only counted once in each article. Curators, directors, writers, architects and musicians (except when discussed as art practice e.g. Cook; Who Plays Music: Six Interviews; Vol 37 no.3) where not counted.

Collaborative duos or groups are counted once only, not each artist. In duos or groups if the artists are of the same gender, e.g. the Chapman brothers, or IRWIN, they are counted as that gender (male). In the case of collaborative duos and groups where the gender is mixed they form a separate number, either “collaborative duo” or “group”.

Artists active before 1900 are not counted.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Holiday zone

The CoUNTesses are currently on holidays and will return in a couple of weeks.

Coming soon is a post received from one of our readers "Handmaiden" who has compiled an extensive number crunch on a CoUNTess favourite, Broadsheet, which provides a generous suvel over the publication's past 2 volumes of issues.

In the meantime, the numbers for the graduating students of 2008 are still being compiled, as are the stats on the gender representation of exhibiting artists in the 12 Artist Run Initiatives funded by the Australia Council in 2007/08. So, there is lots to look forward to in 2009.