Tuesday, April 21, 2015

UNSW Galleries

Just days before International Women’s Day and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the exhibition Collection+: Shaun Gladwell opened at UNSW Galleries. Since re/opening in 2013, the gallery has hosted four solo shows for male artists and, disappointingly, no solo shows for female artists.

Prompted by this discrepancy and the many missed opportunities, I decided to follow in the CoUNTess’ footsteps and get counting!

Here are the results:

UNSW Galleries’ worst performance was in the category of Solo Shows, with exhibitions being dedicated to Edward Burtynsky, Shaun Gladwell, Richard Goodwin and Richard Mosse. I hope to see this figure balanced out in a year or two.

The figures for curated Group Shows also aren’t great. Female artists comprise only 34% of artists shown, in comparison to 53% male and 13% collaborating artists. The worst offender was curator Andrew Frost, whose exhibition Conquest of Space: Science Fiction & Contemporary Art exhibited more than double the number of male to female artists, and also included a film program of nine male directors. Female directors were entirely absent. By contrast, David McNeil’s Quo Vadis: The last drawing show represented an equal number of male and female artists. Special mention goes to Ali Groves whose exhibition Mighty Healthy was the only Group Show to represent more women than men.

Finally, I counted the number of artists selected for Prize exhibitions and here I was pleasantly surprised. Men and women were equally represented, tallying 48% each with the leftover 4% representing collaborating artists. The Prize shows include The Blake Prize, John Fries Award and the Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarships. It seems the entry process and the panel-like nature of judging and curating Prize shows produces far more gender-balanced exhibitions. Kudos to the Freedmans, Kath Fries, Megan Cope, Anne Ferran, Alexie Glass-Kantor, Sebastien Goldspink, Lisa Havilah, Tim Johnson, Jay Johnston, Alex Norman and Jess Olivieri.

UNSW Galleries also produced some interesting statistics in terms of Curators and Judges. Women tallied 57% of solo and co-curators and judges, while men tallied only 37%. (The remaining 8% are either unknown or private). These are encouraging statistics and remind us that the artworld is no longer so firmly controlled by the old, white, male guard of yesteryear. 

Overall, UNSW Galleries has exhibited 51% male artists, 40% female artists and 9% collaborating*. My verdict: not terrible, but there’s certainly room for improvement!

* Student shows including Neil Brandhorst’s SEGUE and The Annual were not included in this count.

Dr Louise R Mayhew is an Australian feminist art historian and the SLNSW Nancy Keesing Fellow. She’s currently researching the Women’s Warehouse (1979–81) and contemporary collaboration in Australia.