Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's Even Worse in Europe

Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz spoke in London recently. Well, OK, "Frida Kahlo" and "Käthe Kollwitz," two masked members of the Guerrilla Girls who spoke in conjunction with the inclusion of their posters at the Tate Modern's recent rehang. We've had a few rounds of discussing the issues central to the Guerilla Girls' missions here, but I thought I'd springboard off their trip abroad to highlight one of their recent findings. From The Guardian:

The Guerrilla Girls are in London this week to give a series of lectures, and also to visit the room now given over to their polemical posters as part of Tate Modern's rehang. One of their first and possibly most famous was a 1989 rendering of Ingres's Odalisque wearing a gorilla's head, and the strapline: "Do Women Have to be Naked to Get into the Met Museum?" But before that, in 1986, they did a bald, black on white, text-only poster that said: "IT'S EVEN WORSE IN EUROPE." "We didn't even have to explain it, we didn't have to do anything. Everybody knew what it meant!" says the laughing gorilla.

They say it's amazing how little has changed: in 2005, they conducted some fresh research into European collections, and found that, even where museums owned significant amounts of work by female artists, it was all in the basement. To coincide with last September's Venice Biennale, they released the following statistics: of 1,238 artworks exhibited by the major Venice spaces, fewer than 40 are by women. They believe the city's Museo Correr actively does women a disservice by collecting their work, since they have 15 pieces by women in their collection and not one of them is on show. One of the Guerrilla Girls' Ten Commandments is: "Thou shalt provide lavish funerals for women and artists of colour who thou planneth to exhibit only after their death." The swizz of a posthumous fanfare must be matched only by the insult of seeing your work ... well, never seeing your work, and knowing no one else will see it, either.
The Guardian article also quotes some London-based art world insiders on the state of equality there:

"I think things are on an up at the moment. Take the Venice Biennale - it's the first time in more than 100 years women have even curated the show. There is still a discrepancy in prices at the high end, but that will change as more women buy more art." ---Stella Vine, artist

"I don't think women are under-represented in the art world. There are plenty of good women artists. But I do think they are underpriced." ---Sadie Coles, director of the Sadie Coles gallery

"Nowadays women can own and control their own galleries. Five out of the 12 artists I represent are women. Women have changed: they are more independent, more ambitious. The role of women and men is almost equal, and that's reflected in the arts scene." ---Virginia Damtsa, director of the Riflemaker gallery

"I'm proud of the Whitechapel's history of pioneering the work of female artists. I curated the first MaxMara art prize for women this year, and it was fantastic to dedicate a prize to the work of so many hugely talented women working in Britain today. All artists have a difficult time after graduation, but for women the financial pressures and family commitments are amplified. Too many female artists end up having to give up." ---Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery

"I have 50% women artists, and 50% male artists in the gallery, and they're as strong as each other. A lot of contemporary art is photography- and film-based, and it doesn't have that same weight of history as painting and sculpture. I think that's one reason why women artists are strong in this area. That's where the revolution is taking place." ---Maureen Paley, director of the Maureen Paley Gallery

"What's really interesting is the number of women who are important in the art world in general. Just in London, Iwona Blazwick runs the Whitechapel Gallery and Julia Peyton-Jones runs the Serpentine. I don't think it's entirely true women are being paid less: Dana Schutz is the most talked-about young artist in the US at the moment; she's only 32, but her paintings go for a quarter of a million dollars each." ---Karen Wright, editor, Modern Painters
Overall, it sounds as if the Brits are a bit more optimistic about the equality front than are Americans. As one of the Guerrila Girls noted, though, that may be more due to the political tone in the US:

But part of it, also, is that America is getting more, not less, conservative, and this is clearly having an impact on the art world. "Let's just say there's probably no one in the Bush administration who subscribes to our point of view," says the cheerful gorilla.
I'm not so sure the impact is "clear" but I'd agree with the last statement.

Still, there seems a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the women in the British art world. Using Venice again, the British Pavillion has exhibited over the past decade


2005: Gilbert & George
2003: Chris Ofili
2001: Mark Wallinger
1999: Gary Hume
1997: Rachel Whiteread
1995: Leon Kossoff (plus the YBAs [which did include an equal number of women])
Not exactly an indication that things are getting better, but obviously not the only measure worth looking at, so I tried another. Of the 65 artists (and that's not counting as extra the teams of Gilbert & George and the Chapman brothers), listed on the website for White Cube, arguably the most influential contemporary gallery in England, only 15 are women.

I guess the question isn't whether things are getting better. Compared with 50 years ago, they clearly are. The question is whether that represents a true change or merely a response to pressure (like that applied by the Guerrila Girls) that will fade once/if the pressure fades. For the time being at least, the smart money's on the latter, I'd say. So I'll reprint the Guerrila Girls' advice in London:

Someone comes up to us and says: "How do you get to be a guerrilla girl?" Very charmingly they say that, well, there are tons of them, and they're not canvassing for more members. "But you know," says stern gorilla, "you could set up on your own. Find something that makes you really angry and aestheticise it. I don't enjoy wearing a gorilla mask, but that's how I'm taken seriously. You don't have to be gorillas. There's always room in the world for more masked feminist avengers."

22 Comments:

Blogger That Broad said...

I think the problem is one of perception. When minorities enter the majority they are very visible. The mere presence of a handful of high-profile female artists heightens the illusion of there being many. But the numbers tell the true story.

7/05/2006 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

I nominate the Broads and Edna for the superhero club.

7/05/2006 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

I'm not surprised. Having been working heavily with Europeans over the past year and a half, I've not infrequently found them to be unapologetically misogynistic and racist, in stark contrast to the refined view they have of themselves. The hypocrisy is particularly galling when compared with the brutish picture of Americans they often paint. At least our foibles are above board and we are wrestling with the issues. Theirs are unrecognized and festering.

Of course, I work with a bunch of advertising guys, not exactly known for their sensativities towards women, so perhaps I'm getting a particularly strong wiff of that stench.

7/05/2006 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Heather Lowe said...

My first reaction to this is (and has been for the last ten years, when I first responded to an article about women artists in the LA Times)---GO read Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own."

However, in another vein, women curators and gallery directors are some of the worst supporters of other women artists (I can tell you some of the insidious coments I have heard from such directors such as: "Oh, if another middle-aged woman comes in here to show me her slides, I'll just die!" So as soon as we accept ourselves the world will be a better place.

7/05/2006 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've noticed something similar to what todd w wrote as well: that in many respects Europeans are less progressive than U.S. citizens. They are more inclined to be openly racist and sexist. A friend, an artist, who had been living in Amsterdam for the past two years, also said he was shocked by the racial slurs he heard. He said that it was of a character he rarely heard in the U.S. And another friend, a woman, complained of sexism while attending Fabrica in Milan. I have been for some time intrigued by this becuase it does not jive with the popular conception of Europe as a MORE progressive place (and Europeans as more progressive peoples).

7/05/2006 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For some time I have been sensitive to the issue of gender equality in the arts but recently I put together a curatorial proposal on a rather specific subject and was disapointed to discover that less than half the artists in the proposal were women. Correcting this imbalance would have, I felt, jeopardized the quality of the proposal so I left it as is. I must say this was an uncomfortable decision to make in part because I wondered whether I was risking the acceptance of my proposal.

7/05/2006 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Correcting this imbalance would have, I felt, jeopardized the quality of the proposal so I left it as is. I must say this was an uncomfortable decision to make in part because I wondered whether I was risking the acceptance of my proposal.

Thanks for bringing that up Anonymous. There is the question of whether one can push so far in the quest for equality that quality itself suffers. Many folks concerned with equality will spot most such claims as opportunistic excuses, but as you illustrate the potential is real.

In the end, I think being conscious of the inequality is the best anyone can ask. Balancing out this or that proposal artificially is worse than the inequality at large, IMO. Faithfulness to an individualistic vision cannot come second to political agendas for anyone true to themselves (and isn't being true to ourselves the goal of equality?). None of us benefit truly from false inclusion.

7/05/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

Thanks for the topic, Ed.

Correcting this imbalance would have, I felt, jeopardized the quality of the proposal so I left it as is. I must say this was an uncomfortable decision to make in part because I wondered whether I was risking the acceptance of my proposal.

I respectfully disagree with Ed's reading of this statement by Anonymous. I read Anonymous as saying that he or she was unwilling to do any extra work to examine his or her own biases and look a little harder for female artists (not to mention other underrepresented artists) that would have strengthened the proposal. I am willing to allow that it might not be possible to find perfectly suitable brilliant female artists for every theme under the rainbow, but I didn't even hear a willingness to look further expressed in Anonymous's comment. I don't mean to attack Anonymous in particular and I appreciate the (anonymous) candor, but the reality is that we all do these things on deadline, and looking harder for female artists that may have escaped one's initial notice (as many of us would have expected the curators of the 71% male 2006 Whitney Biennial to do) takes resources and time. But that's what has to happen - people have to start thinking that it is worth the time!!

7/05/2006 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Walter Robinson said...

In the end, I think being conscious of the inequality is the best anyone can ask.

EXACTLY! That's what I've been trying to tell everyone.

7/05/2006 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

walter, is that really you?

7/05/2006 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger That Broad said...

I would respectfully (ahhh, sort of) disagree that merely being conscious of the inequality is sufficient. If it leads to no further action to rectify the situation, as in the case of curating, the end result is no better than if the enlightened curator is replaced by a blissfully unenlightened (or indifferent) one.

And, in an amazing statistical coincidence, I agree today, as I do about 71% of the time, with This Broad !

7/05/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would respectfully (ahhh, sort of) disagree that merely being conscious of the inequality is sufficient.

hmmmm...I should note that my objection here is a chronological one. Let's take a case in point: The Whitney Biennale. The curators (for better or worse) had a goal for the exhibition. In choosing the work that best illustrated that goal (yes, perhaps another issue for another thread), they chose more men than women.

I understood the suggestion to be that upon realizing this, and before finalizing their list (a point I assume is somewhere closer to the end of the process than the beginning), they should chuck out some of the men artists and look harder for women artist. This seems like a lose-lose to me. The curator won't have the exhibition they wanted, and the women artists will be token.

Implied in the notion that you are conscious of the inequality is the notion that you remain conscious of the inequality in your own choices EACH STEP OF THE WAY. But that in no way can obligate any curator to eliminate a perfect artist for an exhibition because, after a final tally, they realize the roster is out of balance. That's putting politics ahead of the vision, which I reject, as an individualist.

What I feel is a better path forward is a loud and hearty response to inequal exhibitions so that curators remain conscious of the inequality from the get-go and throughout. Not at some point after a tally is taken.

7/05/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger That Broad said...

Point taken. I was responding more to the hearty "hear hear" agreement of the reply to your phrase, which, in my zeal to be a good feminist lead me to read it as serious when it was obviously sarcastic. How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb anyway...ha ha that's not funny!

7/05/2006 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I think that as a whole there is a basic difference between the U.S and Europe. When measured by things like the wealth gap between rich and poor, Europe seems egalitarian. But as one diggs under the suface one can see that the power structure there is often much more entrenched. The people in charge are kind of the same group of people who have always been in charge.

7/05/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

I think that many exhibitions (and most of all other types of art, for that matter) can benefit from some midpoint re-assessment, both from the point of view of under/overrepresented artists as well as just what makes a good art show! The whitney biennial 06 is a prime example of one such exhibition which could have benefited from a midpoint reality-check that might well have resulted in a show with more female artists.

This process should never entail chucking out the perfect male artist and putting in a token female who was less appropriate for the show. Rather, it means taking extra care to do a little legwork rather than rely on artists with whose work you are already familiar from numerous gallery shows who are more likely to be males, trolling those artist registries, asking the artists you admire for recommendations, etc.

So much creation (curating, artmaking, novel writing, screenwriting, tv-writing) is just so lazy and plagiaristic. So many shows one sees in chelsea have the same old artists clumped into similar themes over and over and over. I think that this laziness is as much to blame as actual sexism for the over-representation of white male artists. From my vantage point as an artist/viewer, it seems like curators fill shows primarily with artists they've seen in other shows, so there's a lot of systemic inertia to overcome.

(That said, I will give the 06 Biennial its due in that it at least did not primarily rely on the usual chelsea suspects.)

To get back to the European aspect of Ed's post, it is intriguing to me but I have limited experience to draw on. But I can say that in the 2 times I have traveled to Europe for art shows/art fairs (Madrid and Vienna) I don't remember picking up on sexism or racism. Neither city felt noticeably different than the US (or at least NY) in that way.

7/05/2006 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Laziness and inertia, that is huge factor.

I also honestly think that if one is trying to create a really inclusive scene, then one has to look at it's bare bones practical structure. Where do galleries choose to locate and what is thier basic structure? A flat file gallery in Brooklyn has a structure that allows a more open door than a standard type gallery in Chelsea.

Face it the art scene today is creating practical barriers to entry that will take a large group of people out of the loop.

7/05/2006 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, This Broad might be, in part, correct because a deadline was indeed a factor in the case of my proposal. If I had had more time I would have tried to rectify the gender balance. 50/50 was my goal. My proposal in the end consisted of about 37.5% women. However, my shortlist of artists for the project was a 50/50 split. One of two women I had wanted to include never responded to my inquiries and another was not interested. The curatorial theme as I mentioned was very specific (and it had nothing to do with gender).

I'm with those who say quality preempts quotas though. I realize that for some this might be a way to rationalize their lack of attention to gender equality but the solution to this is talking about it. So I guess that also puts me with those who said that being conscious of the issue is the best anyone can expect.

7/05/2006 05:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, one last thing... I don't want to give an impression of false altruism. The honest truth is that part of why I wanted a 50/50 gender balance is because I thought it would reflect better on my proposal. In other words, I thought it would increase the odds that it would be accepted.

When my proposal is rejected I can wonder whether it was because I did not have more women in it. Maybe I will even blame it on this fact because my idea, of course, was brilliant.

7/05/2006 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

The scene today is becoming more convenient to curators and collectors and less convenient for the actual producers of the work. This is bound to have an effect.

The Artist that doesn't need to work and has studio in Chelsea will have a blunt advantage over a single mom with a job four stops in on the L train.

7/05/2006 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous bob sacamano said...

the 71% male quote doesn't really cut it. I think the source of the problem is to see if it is really 50/50 in terms of "professional" artists wandering the streets looking for places to hang their work. Then it would be properly representing the the population.

As far as I know many BFA programs as well as MFA programs, particularly the photo departments, have an overwhleming female population. But, as when I was in school (a prominent private art school in the northeast) I asked what happens to many of the BFA students (in photo). I was given the response, "Well our program has a history of graduating students to the lives of strippers and waitresses." That is great if you are an elinor carucci or someone like that can turn it into your work, but i have a feeling that was not the place the answer was going.

So in the end, what is happening in the MFA and BFA programs to help both men and women into the galleries in a percentage that is representative of their graduating classes, as far as gender is concerned... Also is that is really even important i mean, i know most of the stuff coming out many grad programs sucks. so...

7/06/2006 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger AFC said...

I don't mean to beat a subject to death, but on the subject of

In the end, I think being conscious of the inequality is the best anyone can ask.

I think for women who are active in the field of art making, curating, and writing, this in fact is not the best anyone can ask. Like it or not, participation of any kind in the art community for a woman can not be seperated from gender politics - even if our intent is not to politize our actions in this way. Women have a responsiblity to be more than aware of gender inequality because those who are active in the community also have the best opportunities to be vocal about it. This doesn't have to mean being shrill - I think you can outline gender objectives without spelling them out to people.

For instance, the emerging artist series I am currently running has a greater number of women than men who will be featured. This wasn't purposeful, but I recognized it, and then strove to keep those numbers. It also wasn't something I went out of my way to advertise. If what commententors say is true, the numbers can speak for themselves.

7/06/2006 01:15:00 AM  
Blogger AFC said...

PS Excellent post!

7/06/2006 01:19:00 AM  

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