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.