Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Better and No Worse

About a year and a half ago I outlined my sense of the usefulness and limits of political correctness as such:
My personal take on political correctness is that it's an artificial construct that has benefits in the short run, but will outlast its usefulness and eventually become harmful. What I mean by that is shaming people into considering others' feelings (or at least keep their hurtful opinions silent) long enough for those others to gain some power socially is a good thing, but for everyone to truly be on an equal playing field, that pseudo-politeness eventually has to end. It's foolish to think you'll ever get everyone to like/accept each other. The only practical thing you can hope for is that people have equal opportunity and equal protection under the law and that with those protections they can fairly fend for themselves.
Like freedom, the ability to compete fairly and fend for yourself with equal opportunity (and equal protection under the law) is a constant struggle. But milestones toward equality not only level the playing field but also serve as important measures against which future efforts can be judged, thereby hopefully perpetuating awareness. It's with that in mind I was pleased to see that the list of artists in the 2010 Whitney Biennial has more women than men (updated). A first, I believe, and as such a very useful milestone.

Jerry Saltz, as usual, however, has contextualized this milestone wonderfully:
The inclusion of all the women artists in this cattle call does not mean that the upcoming Biennial will be much better or worse than usual. Art exhibitions should never be about quotas. Still, in all likelihood, Bonami’s 2010 Biennial will prove once and for all that women artists are no better and no worse than their male counterparts. Once this is acknowledged, we’ll be able to get on with the business-as-usual of tearing the Whitney Biennial to shreds. Or not.
Even the New York Times announcement about the list suggested the celebratory aspects of this Biennial will be somewhat less festive than in years past:
The 2010 edition of the Whitney Biennial — that giant survey of American art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — will not only try to chronicle current goings-on in contemporary art, but it will also reflect the world at large. Thus, in these recessionary times, the show will be smaller than it has been in recent years, with just 55 artists, down from 81 in 2008 and 100 in 2006.
So the year the glass ceiling is shattered just happens to correspond with the Great Recession. The question, to my mind, is will the two be associated in the minds of those about to "get on with the business-as-usual of tearing the Whitney Biennial to shreds."

Labels: gender disparity, Whitney Biennial


Blogger Kate said...

HI Ed:

Don't print this....
I believe you meant to say "has more women than men".

12/16/2009 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks Kate...happy to admit my mistakes...corrected now.

12/16/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger ryan said...

I'm optimistic about the upcoming biennial. Fewer artists, fewer big names, and fewer annex spaces are all good things in my opinion. As for the male to female ratio, I think it's a great thing, but as has been mentioned the real test is the quality of the art sans wall labels.

Is it worth mentioning that the first biennial to feature more women than men is curated by two men? The last several have been curated partially or entirely curated by women. Maybe it's a coincidence.

12/16/2009 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The Boutique Biennial.

12/16/2009 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this can be coupled with the loss of privacy with all the datamining on the Web - it will be impossible to hide one's inclinations eventually (if not now). This will be the death of PC, as much as anything.

12/16/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed: i remember walking into plus ultra, probably six years ago now, and watching Kate Gilmore go at a giant bloody wooden heart with an axe. Congratulation on her inclusion!

12/16/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ryan asks: "Is it worth mentioning that the first biennial to feature more women than men is curated by two men? The last several have been curated partially or entirely curated by women. Maybe it's a coincidence."

I believe is IS worth mentioning. I would say that as a general rule, if you want into the power, you play to the power. As a corollary, what has happened in the past when women selected women? The event was seen as . . . "a women's event."

Perhaps, possibly, maybe this is a small step toward real gender equality. I look forward to this Biennial. It can't possibly worse than the last one.

12/16/2009 06:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh Yes... The Biennial! I appreciate the opportunity to be challenged by a wide range of interesting art. However, I can't get past the institutional air of superiority.

In the back of my head I will always be thinking; "is this what it comes to, is the new paradigm in art really centerd around the curator." How more pompous and elitist can art become... oh wait there are art fairs too.

In spite of all my cynicism, I really do see the value in these biennials and fairs, but as an artist I am a little frustrated with the dog and pony show. More than half of the people commenting and influencing art culture, don't even have a lick of sense about the actual act of creating or producing art.

Ultimately, I think I'm just trying to express my lack of faith in the art instituions which exert enormous influence upon art culture. I suppose I am waiting to be proven wrong. I hope that one day a biennial will really live up to its lofty aspirations and hopefully curators can talk a little less bullshit in the process.

12/17/2009 12:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm white. I'm a guy. And despite what the marginalized might think, I don't pay attention to an artist's race, gender or sexual preference.

So kudos to you, Ed, for letting me know that this Biennial has more women than men. But I'll ask the same question I've asked in the 'more-men-than-women-Biennial' years:

"Why are we paying more attention to the artists than the art?"

12/17/2009 09:36:00 PM  

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