Wednesday, July 21, 2010

17th Biennale of Sydney 2010

The 17th Biennale of Sydney ends next week, so CoUNTess is at work recording the gender numbers for you old faithful readers. Basically, there are 81 male artists and 45 female artists which translates to 33% women and 61% men. 5% are groups which haven't been counted in gender as this information is not available. (Aside: CoUNTess wonders do more women collaborate? Or men?)

The next graph shows the years of birth of the artists. You will notice the largest group of artists to show at the biennale are born in the 1960s. You will also notice that this age bracket of 40-50 year-old artists shows the most extreme gender imbalance. CoUNTess has noticed this trend before.

If second wave feminism was defined and most active in the 1960s and 70s, and third wave feminism is recorded as having started in the 1990s,  CoUNTess is wondering what happened to the 1980s? And we don't need Jane Tennison to tell us that this 40-50 year old batch of artists were the ones graduating art schools in the 1980s, nor that it is this group of women artists who are consistently under represented.

For further breakdown we took at look at Australian artists represented in this Biennale; Australian women artists fare reasonably well with 38% almost as many Australian male artists with 46% while groups consisted of 16%.

While the numbers are fairly close overall you can see in the second chart below that the difference can be identified as coming from - Snap! - women artists born in the 1960s.

Is this a trend CoUNTess will still be documenting in another 10 years? Do women spike at 35 and that's the best we can hope for? Or is it just this 1960s generation who have borne the brunt of this gender backlash? Are women quitting art in their 40s? What's going on?

Got a theory? Please send it to CoUNTess for discussion.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Unequal gender representation in the arts is regular news these days and CoUNTess hopes this media spotlight continues.

In the theatre world the actions of The Australian Women Directors Alliance have brilliantly addressed a need for a path of responsibility towards changing the systematic lack of opportunities afforded women wishing to pursue careers in theatre. That old chestnut EEO has been put to good use, and through the governance of Melbourne University the MTC can perhaps begin to unpack assertions vis a vis quality not quotas, with some understanding of the construction of 'artistic merit' flowing through recognised career paths that, as it turns out, are not exactly accessible to all.

When Barbara Striesand introduced the 2010 Oscar for best director with "the moment has come ... its Kathryn Bigalow", she announced the first woman to win the directors Academy Award in its 82 year history - a point which was a large part of the pre and post event commentary. Meanwhile, the 2010 Archibald Portrait Prize — an event which apparently likes to court controversy — has gained most media attention for its particularly extreme lack of women artists and subjects, with only 7 artists of the 34 finalists being women, and only 4 of the portraits depicting women. This is down from 2009 which was comprised of 11 women and 29 male artists, and 26 portraits of men and 13 of women.

CoUNTess got to thinking about quality and quotas. The Indian government see quotas as a way forward and have passed a bill in parliament that one third (why not half?) of legislative seats be reserved for women which must be a powerful incentive for women in India. Seeing one woman succeed has a different effect from seeing many. And it is here that this post gets down to the counting.

Wack, Global Feminisms, and most recently Elles at the Centre Pompideu have been some of the most radical and memorable exhibitions this decade due to their existence in such high profile museums. These shows have raised a new awareness in the art viewer to question the politics and taste-valuing of artworld and culture industries. The Pompidou website describes Elles

For the first time in the world, a museum will be displaying the feminine side of its own collections. This new presentation of the Centre Pompidou's collections will be entirely given over to the women artists from the 20th century to the present day.

elles@centrepompidou is the third thematic exhibition of the National Modern Art Museum's collections, following Big Bang in 2005 and the Mouvement des Images (Image Movements) in 2006-2007.

This will be the occasion for the institution, which has built up the very first collection of modern and contemporary art, to show its commitment to women artists, nationality and discipline taken together, and place them at the core of modern and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In the Guardian:
This exhibition would have been impossible to mount even five years ago, according to curator Camille Morineau - the museum simply did not have enough work by women. This, she admits, was partly due to a lack of interest by former curators. But thanks to an attitude change at the Pompidou, 40% of its art by women was bought within the last four years and none of it has been borrowed from other galleries. "We've been buying more female artists,"
The gesture, it seems, has already inspired the Museum of Modern Art. Morineau says the New York institution was initially sceptical of elles@pompidou, but it is now working on a new publication, Individuals: Women artists in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. After its release next year, it will also focus on some of its own women artists, with each curatorial department devoting a significant portion, and in some cases all, of its collection galleries to them.

Amazing! But how would such a project fare here in Australia? What work by women artists are in our museum collections? CoUNTess has looked at the following collecting museums in Australia: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, who all handily have their collections online. However, each site organises their content in various ways, so in the interests of creating a comparable sample CoUNTess has counted all Australian artworks acquired since 2000.

This graph shows the percentage of male and female artists in the three museum collections NGV, NGA, AGNSW acquired since 2000

These are the actual numbers of artworks collected by NGV, NGA, AGNSW since 2000

It would appear that an Australian women artists show at this juncture might be a bit thin on the ground. Collections are amassed not only through purchase directly by the museum, but also through collectors and foundations purchasing work and gifting it to the museum (for example, the large donation by Joseph Brown to the NGV in 2004 was substantially historical Australian paintings by men), while in other cases the artist donates the works themselves.

At the end of the day, these collections write the art histories of today and tomorrow, a purchase or donation of an artist's work into a museum collection increases its market value and its chances of being shown in public in the future. A museum or comparable private collection (or private museum) is the top of the success pile for artists. So, where do museums and private collectors buy their art - that will be in commercial galleries. Stay tuned, CoUNTess will examine the gender breakdown in Australia's commercial galleries.