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.

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, 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.