Monday, February 16, 2009

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

The CoUNTesses @ 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.

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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?

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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.


Anonymous said...

great post!

Anonymous said...

I love that you are outing these stats and figures. I see that women still aren't taken as seriously as men when they do work...and the old adage that women have to work twice as hard as men to get their work out there certainly rings true.
Why is the establishment so dick-focused? What is wrong with us all not to recognise that women do great work, and should have equal representation in the media and in galleries. I went to see Justene Williams' Level 2 artwork at the AGNSW last night and its HOTHOTHOT. I want to see miles of column inches discussing this important work. That gallery so needed something fantastic and enthralling, and she deserves a prize!

Anonymous said...

The Art Life is the good life...for men!!! Support the boys, and they'll support you. Its a club.
Granted, women form their own clubs and support groups, but why aren't they in power? We need to re-dress/re-cross dress the situation, ask questions, illuminate the deficiencies and get some people talking...

Anonymous said...

I once loved the Art Life ... now the endless self promotion is getting dreary. I have to say the quality of the blog has dropped over the previous year in my opinion since they have expanded into more media.

perhaps when the 'independent' voice was more prominent and the blog not full of solicited articles the content gender balance was different?

...or maybe i just want to believe this remembering how fresh and kind of radical the Art Life seemed when it first started

as you point out Countess now they are really just part of the establishment - conventional and predictably obsessed with the boys

Anonymous said...

I think the Artlife has definitely gone down hill in last year. Although I don’t think there was an equal representation of women in past years either. I particularly remember being pissed off with the boys club feeling in 2005/2006. But the numbers are a powerful - maybe you should count a past year Genius to either confirm or dispel.

Anonymous said...

We could point out that the two articles you mention - the Marinon review and the piece on Sylvester - were written by different people, onbe by a woman [Marinon], one by a male [Sylvster] and sk if that might account for the difference in tone. We could also ask how you count such a damning piece on Sylvester's work as a "gush". Or we could take you to task on having go at The Art Life based on dubious stats of your own devising [you know we only post invites to shows that are sent to us, not selected by gender, duh]. But you know what? You've nailed us - were sexist, mysoginistic aresholes. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone wants to label the art lifers as arseholes, you label yourselves.
Art is a creative force that crosses all boundaries and can open avenues between thinking people...both women and men are involved in the making and creating of all!
Fair representation is as much as making sure there is discussion and reference to artists that make work...not just the Gladwells and Hensons. Come off it, we can aspire to that.

Anonymous said...

When it comes down to it, the writer(s) at TAL are entitled to include who and whatever they like in their blog. Male, female, horse, goat.

Anonymous said...

Hi, great blog.
I find it very interesting. It's terrific that the project is running. Something else I've noticed is that female artists who are in relationships with powerful male artists usually do better than average female artists. It would make an interesting study.

Anonymous said...

hey artlife and others,
countesses didn't call you, or another else, sexist or mysoginistic. I think they are trying to talk about the lower representation of women in the art world generally. Pointing to the numbers to show how that perception is built up over many magazines and exhibitions, is something worth exploring.

You can post whatever you want about whoever you want, but I guess either your female readers and others are going to see it as adding to the lower representation of women or challenging it.

and if there is critism- be a man and take it on the chin!

Anonymous said...

"we only post invites to shows that are sent to us"

So the art life is just an unwitting vessel of push marketing?

TEAM Art Life said...

It may well be that The Art Life has mentioned more male artists than female artists by a factor of 100-1, but simply counting the number of mentions doesn't take into account the context of those mentions. What has The Art Life done when it comes to publicising the work of female artists, their shows, exhibitions, publications or anything else for that matter? Well, you'd never know by just counting mentions...

The implication of the post is that The Art Life is part of the problem, not an ally in trying to circumvent the power relationships of the mainstream art world. We'd have thought ourselves philosophically aligned to the Countesses but it turns out we're part of the problem.

It'd be interesting to count all the mentions of men v women on this blog and see how the numbers stack up. It looks as though men are mentioned many more times than women. One can only draw one conclusion from that - The Countesses aren't helping the situation at all. Of course, that'd be ridiculous since the *context* is the important thing.

Anonymous said...

anyone else happen to notice the new art life website has seven contributors, six of them men?
and they think themselves "an ally in trying to circumvent the power relationships of the mainstream art world" !!!