Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not enough women of "merit" ?

The CoUNTess inbox set off gender representation alarm bells this week when more than a few emails rolled in announcing the selected artists in a number of upcoming exhibitions in some of Australia's publicly funded museums and public spaces. Whether you're emerging or established, or as they say in Melbourne, "NOW",  in these prominent exhibitions it would seem the art-world gatekeepers are having the same problem as Tony Abbott who could not find enough women of "merit" to fill his governments' cabinet positions!

Annabel Crabb's commentary on Abbott's "merit" claim is quoted here for its humour and the familiar parallel with claims of artistic merit that also dominate the contemporary visual arts
"That's just how it panned out" is the traditionalists' defence of organisations that proudly appoint "only on merit" and find, time after time, that an astonishingly high proportion of the really excellent people also have willies.

1. NSW Visual Arts Fellowship for Emerging Artists (used to be Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship)

12 Finalists - 4 female artists - 8 male artists
There is really no excuse for gender inequality in a show of selected emerging artists fresh out of our national art schools which are overflowing with female students (previous CoUNTess posts have determined up to 70% and sometimes more graduating students from fine art courses are women).  How does a result occur where twice as many male artists than women artists are selected?  Is the way the art-world judges artistic merit playing a part?  Is artistic merit gendered?  Or is it possible women artists are not applying in sufficient numbers? If not why not?  

For reference CoUNTess combed back through the scholarships history and found an equal distribution of the scholarship winners between female, male and collaborative duos.  But regardless of such an even handed historical result, when Artspace recently put together a travelling exhibition showcasing some of the previous winners prophetically titled How Yesterday Remembers Tomorrow it included; 1 solo female artist, 2 collaborative male/female duos and 3 solo male artists - effectively 5 male artists and 3 female artists.

The Artspace website, where this scholarship exhibition has been held on an annual basis, quotes the Minister for the Arts
The Hon. George Souris MP who states:
Applicants were assessed by an independent panel on their artistic merit, professional skills and experience, the suitability of their proposed program in relation to their artistic practice, and the significance of the program to their career....


2. 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: DARK HEART 
23 exhibiting artists - 7 female artists - 15 male artists - 1 collaborative group

Adelaide Biennial is an exhibition at the other end of the professional spectrum to the NSW Emerging Artist Fellowship. CoUNTess has addressed this bi-annual curated exhibition in previous posts - and unfortunately this show has mostly favoured male artists with one exception in 2004 when curated by Julie Robinson.  

The AGSA announces the exhibition is about difficult conversations and the guest speaker will be Germaine Greer!  

CoUNTess has a difficult question - why so few women artists?

From the Art Gallery of South Australia's website

‘In its 13th iteration the Biennial will tap into the hearts and minds of contemporary Australian society, to explore the political, the psychological and the personal. I am after an inherently emotional and immersive exhibition, one that is unafraid to ask difficult questions and expose the underbelly of society.’ Nick Mitzevich curator

The theme of difficult conversations runs throughout the biennial. This will be presented in the exhibition publication which will feature an essay by Australia’s most controversial expatriate, Germaine Greer. 

3. Melbourne Now NGV 

28 initial artists announced on NGV website - 8 female artists - 14 male artists + (5 designers 4 of whom are women and 1 male)

CoUNTess is looking forward to seeing the full list of over 130 participating artists. In the meantime we had to make do with the initial list, which is being released in stages and published on the NGV website ...
Melbourne Now celebrates the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex cultural landscape of creative Melbourne. This ambitious and far-reaching exhibition across NGV Australia and NGV International will show how visual artists and creative practitioners have profoundly contributed to creating a place with a unique and dynamic cultural identity.
While CoUNTess's focus is always on the contemporary artists' gender representation, it is obvious the greater percentage of women participants in Melbourne Now at this point are designers.  While the majority of contemporary artists in Melbourne Now at this point are male artists.  Is this also a situation of just not enough women artists with "artistic merit"? How can these gender representation numbers make sense when they sit in stark contrast to the fact that the gender distribution of fine art graduating students (the pool of artists) are 70% women.

We hope this initial published artists participant list will not reflect the gender representation in the full show when it opens in November.  Because the very real-world outcome of unequal gender representation is unequal distribution of funds and thats a very real pay gap?

4. Primavera - Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
4 female artists, 4 male artists

Just so your spirits are not completely disheartened there are some exhibitions that manage equal gender representation and Primavera 2013 is one.
This much-loved annual exhibition (turning 22 this year!) returns to our galleries with the next crop of unapologetically bold makers, thinkers and performers. Hailing from Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, the work of these eight young Australian artists will delight and fascinate.

5. The Wandering: Moving Images from the MCA Collection
15 exhibiting artists : 4 female artists (one is a collaborative duo), 10 male artists

Unfortunately another current MCA project can not claim the same gender equality outcome as Primavera.  This exhibition The Wandering is a touring show of works purchased by the MCA for their collection of 14 moving image works by 4 female artists (one being a collaborative duo) and 10 male artists.

This collection-based show would suggest that either the MCA doesn't appear to have a gender equity policy and therefore haven't seen the need to collect moving image work by women, or they do purchase moving image work by women, but they just choose not to show it.

Whichever the case, this example shows how the work of women artists is undervalued and under represented. The blurb from the MCA website about this show claims;
The Wandering: Moving images from the MCA Collection takes us on a unique journey through contemporary Australian art. The immediacy of moving image provides opportunities for art to engage with audiences in ways that are different to static, more traditional mediums, such as painting and sculpture. The exhibition presents artworks recently acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia by 15 leading artists