Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Biennale of Sydney 1998 - 2008

One of the exhibitions that heralded the call to action for the CoUNTesses @blogspot.com in 2008 was the 16th Sydney Biennale, 'Revolutions: Forms that Turn' curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. The Biennale's website (BOS2008.com - no ".au"? It must be international) website describes the curatorial concept of the exhibition;

Billed this year as a celebration of the defiant spirit, the exhibition will bring together some of the most revolutionary artists the world has ever known alongside the shining stars of today.

The theme of the 16th Biennale, Revolutions – Forms That Turn, suggests the impulse to revolt, a desire for change, and seeing the world differently.

This was only the third Sydney Biennale out of sixteen to be curated by a woman (previously Isabel Carlos in 2004 and Lynne Cooke in 1996). CoUNTess was of the assumption that given this history, and with a woman curator at the helm again, the "revolutionary" theme and the idea of "seeing the world differently" there would be a healthy contingent of women artists in the show. Not so. This "revolution" was spinning off its axis as far as gender representation is concerned, with the lowest percentage of woman artists of the Biennale's previous ten years.

Biennale of Sydney 1998 - 2008

For women artists, the sun looks to be setting on a long night. A dark age shall we say, as the vast majority of the "shining stars" lighting our way from "the most revolutionary artists the world has ever known" are men. With a gender split of 74% men and 26% women it is no wonder so many of the reviews and publicity surrounding the Sydney Biennale also predominantly focused on the work of men.

(NB: the prior Sydney Biennales are currently being researched, and we will continue this thread as soon as the full numbers come in)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


CoUNTess is always interested in where the money is being spent when it comes to promoting what artists are hot, sizzling, current and, most importantly, "now". In time for holiday shopping, Art and Australia have released a new coffee table hard cover book they call CURRENT: Contemporary Art from Australia and New Zealand. After reading its exciting intro, we thought we would check it out.

Current: Contemporary Art from Australia and New Zealand is the first comprehensive survey of all that is cutting edge in Australian and New Zealand contemporary practice. In a landmark publication, the book features eighty artists, carefully chosen to best reflect the vibrancy of art of the moment. While Current could be seen as a hot list of contemporary taste in the tradition of Taschen’s Art Now, inclusivity is the book’s abiding theme. Current is also underpinned by scholarship with commissioned essays by the region’s leading writers and curators.

CoUNTess got to spend some time browsing the CURRENT 'Table of Contents', a list of the text's  carefully chosen artists, and discovered that the editors idea of "comprehensive" falls a little short when it comes to women artists. "Inclusivity" as an "abiding theme" of the book seems a bit far-fetched in this regard as well. At the CoUNTess offices we got talking about how 'cutting edge' used to mean something was radical, operating outside the system and how if this was still the case, CURRENT would be full of women artists. So, we consulted a common online dictionary and they all agreed that "cutting edge" is defined as being at the forefront, in the position of greatest advancement. That sounds like a pleasant place to be. Secure. Not that edgy at all? We decided we must have been thinking of the bleeding edge

Not only is CURRENT's balance way off, but also it seems this publications editors and commissioned essayists of leading writers and curators didn't think it was worth noting that the majority of artists in the book are men, or explaining this phenomenon.

 This is what the numbers say: Women 28.75%, Men 67.5%, Couple Collaborations 2.5%, Other Collaborations 1.25%

Staff Room

This week the CoUNTesses @blogspot.com are out there asking for directions to the nearest pathway to success. As the Grad Show numbers come, in the CoUNTesses at the office have been browsing web sites of the said art schools to discover the gender breakdown of staff.

CoUNTess discovered how poorly designed some of these university web sites are; we found that only three visual arts departments had their own distinct web identity, so it was quite tricky to navigate. For the same reason it was also difficult to find out who the various staff were at each art school. Adding to this, CoUNTess has also been told that university sites are not so very up to date and therefore are not reflective of the vast numbers of casual or short contract staff employed.

click to view larger

So without access to all this information we have no definitive numbers on the gender breakdown of staff at Australian art schools to bring to you in this post. But our laborious detective work was not entirely in vain. From the art department data we were able to find, we can share with you results that could indicate the most positive industry outcome for women artists, so far - 58% women and 42% men.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Coming back to our findings a few posts ago, how typical are the Broadsheet numbers? While browsing the aisles at our local (quality) news agency and bookshop — who between them stock most Australian art magazines — CoUNTess decided to buy the lot. Now there are magazines all over the CoUNTess offices, in the boardroom, in the lunch room, even the uni-sex toilets.

The flicking through large glossy pages, recapping of highlighter pens and the singing of post-it notes being ripped off their pads have become the CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com's theme tune of sorts; we keep breaking into singing Money by Pink Floyd for some reason.

The full count

For this project CoUNTesses counted the feature articles in each magazine, as listed in the table of contents. Feature articles are the main focus of the magazine and are often highlighted on the front cover, they are like the meat in the sandwich between the editorial and the reviews, intermingled with the advertisements that in turn supersize them. Our count revealed that feature representation is a goes-around-comes-around world, reflective of gender balance in galleries both commercial and public. While we were at it we also counted the representation of women writers, editors and cover stars - the count proving little better, especially where covers were concerned.

So whats the point of counting? Well, we at CoUNTess just think it is important to put it in black and white to see what you think.

Australian art magazine covers

flash back or not?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Missing in action

Countess Dahling von Dahling with her dog Masha.

CoUNTess is so excited about the graduating shows opening all over Australia in the next couple of weeks, those slaved over fund raised catalogues will provide the hard copy for counting the gender balance of art school graduates. Some of our advance orders have already arrived in the CoUNTess offices.

CoUNTess is often hearing how women make up between 70-90% of students at Australian art schools. If this figure is true then why is it not reflected in the numbers of artists shown in artist run spaces, public and commercial galleries and museums? So far our figures say 40% at best. Many women artists have a whole career without mention in an art magazines, where on average women make up 30 % of the artists featured. Why? And does seeing others of same gender succeed or fail influence an artist’s ambition?

Features in Australian art magazines October 2008

A typical spiel on an artschools web site says
However, as the discipline is charged with a responsibility for the education of professional visual artists, it is ultimately judged by the quality and proportion of its graduates who regularly and successfully exhibit in public and commercial galleries in Australia and throughout the world.
Given our figures, we think institutions should really be a little more upfront with their female students, as clearly when they graduate they are not achieving the levels of their male peers. Its like one giant scam.

Female visual art graduates future opportunities compare shamefully to women in other female dominated tertiary programs and their corresponding industry gender representation. CoUNTess wonders if the whole of art education has become a sausage factory where a few bureaucrats are milking vast numbers of student supplicants to feed their own need for employment.

This poses the question, should we be training so many female artists at art school, when there is not much opportunity for them as artists in the art world? Annika Strom thinks not. In the last issue of Frieze Issue 119 (Feature articles: 9 male artists, 3 female artists) she is the respondent in the regular questionnaire column on the last page.
What should change? The ongoing resistance of art museums to buying art made by women. Also, I would like to see more big solo shows by women before they're dead, and 90 percet less admission for women to art schools, as I am sick of teaching them while knowing they probably won't have their work displayed in any big museums or bought for major collections. Obviously women at art schools are a waste of taxpayers' money.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Broadsheet / September 2008 / Volume 37.3

Since The Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) showed up to be the most dismally lopsided of equal opportunity exhibition spaces in our survey Balancing the Books, the CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com have decided to investigate further, turning our counting markers to the gallery's publicly funded magazine BROADSHEET. Like its main gallery representation, the magazine was similarly embarrassing for CACSA on the gender equality front.

CoUNTess picked up the current issue Broadsheet / September 2008 / Volume 37.3, with a view to investigate how much coverage is given to male artists vs female artists. The most direct method was to simply count the names of every artist discussed and referenced in the text (Individual artists were only counted once in each article. Curators, directors, writers and musicians were not counted).

The shameful result... Male artists receive 178 mentions, female artists...43. Ouch. But seeing as the Australian members of the Advisory Board total 8 males, 0 females, perhaps not too surprising. Broadsheet, you have been counted! Below is a breakdown of our Broadsheet findings.

Male 1

Advisory Board (International and Australian)
Male 16
Female 4

Advisory Board (Australian only)
Male 8
Female 0

Contributors to Broadsheet Volume 37.3
Male 10
Female 5

Male artists 178 mentions
Female artists 43 mentions

Cover image*
Male 1
Female 1
* artist collaborators

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Agency CoUNTess

On the occasion of an exhibition in Melbourne's salubrious Carlton Hotel titled Girls Girls Girls, CoUNTess announced her arrival on the back cover of the exhibition catalogue zine. The Countesses @ blogspot site meter has been spinning ever since. CoUNTess may be polymorphous but is completely straight laced when it comes to the numbers. As it is the numbers that tell the real story of the unequal conditions that women artists in Australia are operating within.

Since her arrival, the CoUNTess has welcomed new field operatives who love to count the gender representation in their own local nooks and crannies of the art world.

Already whistle blowers are sending in tips from all corners of the nation - some quite upset and irate about the overwhelming exclusion of women from so many exhibitions, and are wondering what they can do about it. Well, CoUNTess says a problem shared is a problem halved and there is nothing gained by not talking talking about it. No point waiting for Jerry Springer to expose the matter publicly, or Judge Judy to deliver a verdict.

A balanced gender representation in the art world is not to much to expect. If your local, publicly-funded gallery is showing less than 50% female artists, write a message of complaint to the gallery director, your local member, the galleries funding bodies. Thats what the CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com are busy doing.

CoUNTess has always said that change is possible. Now we have Bob the Builder and Barack Obama claiming they can fix it and change things too. And we all agree;


Monday, October 20, 2008

Balancing the books

The usually breathtaking views from CoUNTess office are currently obstructed by piles of papers. There's post-it notes on every surface and calculators crunching underfoot. But this blog is not about OH&S its about gender representation in the Australian art world and that is a messy business. There has been a mountain of research to get through in our quest to compile the numbers and we are all out of pink and blue highlighters. The CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com have decided that our best plan of action is to sort our excel spread sheets (and sheets and sheets) into bite size chunks. "First things first, but not necessarily in that order" as Dr Who wisely said.

The first chuck: the CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com have reviewed the websites of one mid-sized publicly funded contemporary art gallery from each state, adding up the number of women and men who have exhibited in the gallery's main space from the first show in 2007 to September 2008.  We haven't included any offsite projects and spaces, graduate exhibitions or competitions as they will be the subject of future posts. Plus, in the spirit of first-thing-being first, main gallery spaces host solo and curated group shows and are major milestones in an artists exhibiting career; as all the galleries reviewed accepted proposals for their exhibition programs giving focus to the main stage offers a good gauge of which artists — and more importantly for us, which gender — are making the cut. And no we haven't forgotten the Apple Isle, but unfortunately Cast in Hobart has missed out, as their website is under construction.

The CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com wants to take this opportunity to encourage female artists in Australia to send off those applications for exhibitions to these 'artspaces' we have assessed. We have discovered there is a huge gap in the market that needs urgent redressing and can only assume this is due to a lack of applications by women? Surely, the (almost) blindingly male-centric programming of these galleries can't ALL be pinned on a system-wide valuing of men's art over women's? Surely?With the exception of 24Hr Art in Darwin who exhibited more women then men, the next rating approaching an equal balance was Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne with 60% men and 40% women, and CACSA were the worst offenders with 77% men and 23% women. Jokes about the numbers of women's applications aside, could somebody please explain this gender discrepancy?

The CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com expect only the highest quality work to be exhibited in these galleries, so are rightfully suspicious that it is men as a group who are consistently given exhibition opportunities. If the galleries are programming exhibitions of the highest quality are they declaring that men make better art than women? If not, then why so few women artists? Is it a question of talent and ambition or just plain old fashioned discrimination?  The CoUNTesses suggests these organisation's EEO policies should be seriously reviewed as EEO is an outcome not a procedure.

The Australia Council sets an excellent example and gender equality as institutional policy, awarding individual grants to men and women artists EQUALLY, which proves it can be done without causing a major Taste Crisis.  The CoUNTesses @ blogspot.com thinks these art spaces and all public galleries should be expected to do the same.

Balance the books.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Out for the count

CoUNTess is here and we have been doing some overdue statistical research, confirming what many have been — too quietly — discussing: the systematic gender inequality in the art world. The art world is global, but we thought we would start local, even regional, in the quest to examine the truth behind the serious representational gender inequality that is currently present at every level of the art training-production-marketing-consuming system.

CoUNTess awaits with anticipation Art Express 2009, but in the meantime has been wondering which artists high school students are being exposed to in the class room. We have discovered an initiative by the Kaldor Art Projects, who have produced in partnership with the Curriculum Directorate of the NSW Department of Education and Training, a DVD resource for high school students called MOVE: Video Art in Schools. The aim of the resource is to acquaint and inspire students with the new art form of VIDEO, which is a fine ambition, but...

Can someone at either of these organisations explain to CoUNTess why all the "commissioned" artists in this high school resource are men? Considering that no less than half of visual art students in high school are women, CoUNTess thinks it obvious that such resources would champion gender equality and strongly encourages them to do so.

CoUNTess would be happy to get in on this exclusive Kaldor partnership in the future to fix this glaring problem. I propose that our revised resource be titled MOVE OVER: you don't have to be male to make video art. CoUNTess has a vast network of fabulous women video artists which may assist in its production; we understand the organisers of these kind of resources might have trouble finding many women artists to choose from due to the scarcity of women artists in Australia's commercial galleries and public spaces. Encouraged by us to look beyond these institutions and their testosterone-sodden catalogues, they will find, as we at CoUNTess have (and as many women artists are achingly aware of), that the nation's art schools by comparison are overflowing with women artists.*

CoUNTess also couldn't help but notice that the commissioned artists in the Kaldor resource are all represented by commercial galleries and that these galleries have their own gender inequality issues! That's a lot to think about! Here's the commercial galleries who 'supplied' artists to MOVE Video Art in Schools and their gender spread: Anna Schwartz (23men/15 women), Rosyln Oxley9 (17 men/22 women), Barry Keldoulis (13 men/7 women), Grant Pirrie (10 men/5 women). As we continue to pour over the commercial gallery statistics and their conspicuous alignment with gender inequality in the art world at large, we at CoUNTESS are very much looking forward to weighing in. Why should mens art be worth more than women's?

* These numbers will be crunched in future posts, as we search for the location of the glass ceiling. This discussion will include 'bonus' findings on inequality in the academy, such at the fact that women make-up the majority of art students and the minority of teaching/research staff.