If you haven’t picked up the current edition of ArtNews magazine, consider this my wholehearted endorsement. June is the women’s issue and though some may disagree, I think its focus is necessary, refreshing and really well done. Features this month include a look at Yoko Ono’s art world (x), the “Black Sheep Feminists” of the 70’s (x), and a collection of responses to Maura Reilly’s piece: Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts Figures and Fixes which examines the hard stats of how women are doing today in the press, the market, exhibitions and the museum world.

Generally I find the writing for ArtNews to be critical and well informed, but lately I have been a bit annoyed with their attention to numbers and little else. I know that ________  sells at auction for ______ million dollars is an attention grabbing headline, but focusing on the money seems like trying to sell the idea of important art to people who are actually not so interested in art. Those numbers have a place absolutely, and the market is a large part of the art world, but not the part I care most about.

As for the numbers in Reilly’s piece, I wasn’t surprised to find the gender imbalance is  alive and well. Men still make up the bulk of solo exhibitions, commercial gallery representation and sales in America and abroad. Men also run most museums and are paid considerably more to do so. Despite this obviously measurable imbalance, earlier this year Hong Kong’s Intelligence Squared debated whether the art world was still a “boys club”(x) and decided, by the narrowest of margins, that this wasn’t true anymore. What then, I wonder, is happening in the gap between statistics and personal opinion?

The seventeen women who responded to Taking the Measure of Sexism have their own ideas about what is wrong with the art world and how to fix it. The inclusion of so many opinions is an important thing to note and an invaluable tool in battling a familiar enemy to true equality: tokenism. Women tend to be lumped together in these studies and graphs which implies that there is some uniformity to their experiences or needs. By that custom, including a few female artists to tip the scales towards equality reads as a bigger victory on paper than it may be in practice. Institutions showing or hiring women as quotas demand doesn’t insure that their work, artistic or otherwise, is actually being valued or considered equally, it merely notes that they are present.

Many responders point out that representation is not enough if it isn’t done right. Shahzia Sikander writes, “Women’s personal lives are often over emphasized in documentation…In many of the interviews that I have been asked to participate in, interlocutores ask me more about my personal identity and relationship to Pakistan than about my artistic practice.” “We need to look at the big picture,” says Betty Tompkins, “Where am I getting to show? Who’s getting to look at my work? Who’s writing about it? Who’s buying it?” Others  emphasize the classist undertones that still exist and separate the art world, sometimes even more so than gender. “The biggest inequity in the art world develops out of race and class privilege.” K8 Hardy remarks, “The elephant in these numbers comes down to race and to the fact that we are considering mostly white men and white women.” Many note that the “gender problem” is one of many that need to be solved if we expect a more inclusive art world and I agree. Eventually I’d like to see an environment where people are in open dialogue and not placed into subgroups like ‘female painters’ or ‘gay artists’. Only one respondent, Jamian Juliano-Villani, seemed to disagree with a continued push for gender equality. She writes, “the more we point it out (sexism), the longer it continues to be an issue…I just choose to ignore that shit and keep going forward and make it work in my favor.” Jamain also says it’s hard for her to relate to instances of sexism outside of her own experience which brings me to my favorite of many solutions.

The advancement of women in the arts is not just a question of installing women in high level positions; more comprehensive education will also play a large role and change there could be seen relatively quickly. According to the New York Times, women made up over 60% of art students in 2006 (Reilly reports this number, I was unable to find a source). How might their work change if they were exposed to female artists and thinkers that have been passed over by history? How might Jamian’s opinions be changed if she could relate to other experiences of sexism? Though the general consensus is yes, strides have been made, I believe that we as artists, writers, art workers and consumers need to continue to push for equality. It is up to us to inform ourselves, seek out and patronize female artists and organizations that tell women’s stories both online and in the flesh.

Below I’ve included the link to the June issue overview where you will find Maura Rilley’s article and all 17 responses. I’d still recommend getting your own copy, there are loads of references there worth looking into. What do you think? Are we equal enough? Do these numbers even matter? I’m looking forward to your feedback.

Happy reading, till next time.
Akiko Surai

Originally published by FabulouslyFeminist.com

Further Reading:

June ArtNews: Women in the Art World

Why Have There been No Great Women Artists – Linda Nochlin

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