Reflecting on a Week’s Worth of Conversation About Dudes and Their Shows

by Whitney Kimball on September 24, 2013 · 32 comments Opinion

Dan Colen, Installation view, Gagosian, 2010

Looks like Fall 2013 won’t be promising any new awakenings in the New York art world. This season, the institution leans harder than ever on its white male mainstays.  Matthew Day Jackson poses in a race car in Times Magazine; The New Museum revs Chris Burden’s motorcycles; the Met unveils Balthus’s bland, underaged nudes; all after a summer of Hopper, Turrell, McCarthy, Koons, and Foulkes. It is, as Deborah Solomon put it recently on NPR, “an art season that could make you think that the feminist movement never happened.”

Meanwhile, she points to female retrospectives getting less traction: mini shows of Dorothea Rockburne at MoMA, Janet Cardiff at The Cloisters, and Ileana Sonnabend at MoMA. This year’s program prompted Solomon to ask listeners: “Do [you] think that museums should be giving equal time and equal space to female artists?”

Walter Robinson responded by putting the question to Facebook, and got around 24 comments. “Walter, alas, that’s every fucking fall for two million years,” painter Kathe Burkhart wrote. “But Balthus and Magritte totally rock – in my book.” That perspective on these artists isn’t surprising, since Burkhart works in a similarly creepy vein; her own BDSM-tinged Liz Taylors qualify at least as surreal and intense as Llyn Foulkes’ bloody Mickey Mouses, which recently got a solo retrospective at the New Museum.

The problem isn’t that Foulkes or Jackson aren’t great (Balthus is pretty bad), it’s that big institutions are squeezing women out altogether. As Gallerist’s Andrew Russeth points out, the new Gagosian London show has 35 artists, 34 of which are male, and mostly all white. In response, Jerry Saltz went up in arms on Facebook yesterday to label Larry Gagosian a “HAGFISH: A blind, jawless, four-hearted creature that produces large quantities of slime and that burrow up the anuses of dead animals and devours them from the inside,” and give him the official “j’accuse!” So long as we’re naming names, Gallerist’s attention to this issue looks more than a little suspicious, given that their own staff is almost all white and male, their reportage follows the establishment.This issue’s popular at the moment, so there’s no risk weighing in. (Where were the op-eds during Sotheby’s union art handler lock-out or Occupy?) Jerry Saltz always throws his weight behind the little guy, and as a result, we take him seriously.

Gagosian’s a typical culprit, but male bias seems to be universal in New York this season. On Robinson’s Facebook post, artist Joanne Greenbaum pointed to Michael Werner gallery’s all-male “Tumescence” show about swelling, which features a boner as its lead image. “Typically defined as an exaggerated physical condition of enlargement or swelling, tumescence here describes a feeling in painting,” the press release states. There’s nothing wrong with a show about boners, it just so happens to be the umpteenth boner-fueled show we’ve seen in the past eight months. (“If ‘tumescence’ is gendered male, what’s an equivalent female noun?” Robinson asks.)

Against that backdrop, an announcement for yet another all-male net art show feels like another step backwards. Artist Daniel Keller’s (of AIDS 3D) Berlin group show “Liquid Autist,” featuring eleven artists, all male. In a 40+ facebook comment thread, Keller claims that the show pursues what he calls a “mythological Autistic character” who, in his mind, is “definitely male”– probably because this character is described as having an ideal skill set for gaming, hacking, and libertarian entrepreneurship.

That’s fine; the show’s about gender, and the artists reflect that. (Though I can’t help but wonder why, out of Autism, libertarianism, and hacking, that gender is the only criteria that matters). But to certain weary female art professionals, “Liquid Autist” only comes as the latest addition to a long list of these threads.

Adding insult to injury, Keller insists that including women would only be “affirmative action curating”: the implication being that you take affirmative action because you have to, but it’s lame and ruins the curatorial integrity of the whole show.

Why not practice affirmative action, if it’s only forced other fields to expand their programming? In an excellent 2011 blog post, John Powers pointed to Title IX, the affirmative action law of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in any federally-funded education program or activity. This means that universities had to provide equitable (not mirrored) athletic programs, which meant that they made room for activities best suited to each gender.

Powers thinks we should sue MoMA under the same law, since museums share the same organizational definitions and 501c3 nonprofit status that makes universities Title IX-eligible. We think it’s a great idea. At worst, it would force some revisions to a predetermined rubric; at best, we broaden our definitions of greatness, redefine some tired rules, and better reflect the world outside. That’s what the avant-garde was supposed to be doing anyway.

  • Franklin Einspruch

    1. Did you actually go and see the Balthus show at the Met? Just asking.

    2. Your taking of Jerry Saltz seriously as an advocate for the little guy (or girl, as you’re implying here) is misplaced. He blithers such advocacy, obnoxiously, but when he returns to his rounds he’s back to salivating over Jay-Z or Jeff Koons. As far as I can tell from the NY Magazine archives, the last time he addressed work by a female artist at any similar length, it was Cornelia Parker’s “The Maybe” – Tilda Swinton in a vitrine. He belittled it. That was six months ago.

    3. 501(c)3 status applies to a wide range of institutions besides educational ones. Suing MoMA under Title IX is really not a great idea. Even so, do you realize that you’re calling for the apparatus of the state to step in because the avant-garde is failing to do its job? Rosenberg’s avant-garde ghosts have never looked so wispy.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      Hey Franklin,

      I haven’t seen the Balthus show at the Met. I don’t know if Whitney has, but she’s obviously seen enough of his work to be able to render an opinion on the paintings one way or the other. Whatever her answer is to your question, I don’t think it’s consequential to the piece.

      You make a good point about Saltz not writing about as many women as he could, but you and I both know he’s repeatedly taken up this subject as an issue. Jen Dalton’s show at Ed Winkleman a few years back revealed that he wrote about more women than Roberta. I don’t think he’d left the Village Voice for New York Magazine yet though, which probably makes a difference.

      In any event though, I don’t see his interest in celebrities as implicitly contradicting his investment in the art world and emerging artists. I think he sees a world in which art and pop culture merge as positive because art reaches more people and I think there’s some value in that. I don’t wholly agree with it myself because the entertainment industry is so vacuous, but the desire for art to reach as many people as possible comes from good intentions IMO. So too do his political beliefs, which tend towards a liberal interest in seeing a more democratic art world. That means when he sees shows with only one woman in it, he gets upset. I’ve got no issues with that.

      Finally, I can’t speak for Whitney, but I am not afraid of the “apparatus of the state”. I like government, and I wish there was more of it. Bring on Title IX.

      • Franklin Einspruch

        I have seen the Balthus show, and it’s too good and too interesting to be dismissed sight unseen in the manner displayed overhead. You and Whitney may do with that information what you will.

        I realize that Saltz has repeatedly taken up this subject. Not just repeatedly, but ostentatiously. Stop looking at what he says and start looking at what he does. It’s facile of him to make demands on the rest of the art world while he goes about his usual business of slavering over male art and quasi-art celebrities, and reveling in his limited access to celebrity culture and outsize (for an art critic) fame. His politics may be sincere and well-intentioned, but the whole “I don’t really belong here and I don’t want to like this stuff but I can’t help myself” shtick is empty fatuity. It’s time for Saltz to be the change he wants to see in the art world. If he doesn’t like its celebrity-driven thoughtlessness and lack of female representation, he can fix it by writing about underrated women. But he won’t, because he knows as well as anyone that the politics you practice matter less to the art world than the politics you profess.

        I should have been more explicit about Title IX. The premise first suggested by Bill Bartman, that “museums are 501(c)3 nonprofit by merit of the exact same quality that makes universities eligible, they are educational institutions,” is flatly wrong. If you click the above link, you’ll see that 501(c)3 exemptions

        apply to corporations, and any community chest, fund, cooperating association or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, to promote the arts, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

        In other words, the museums are 501(c)3 nonprofits because they’re museums, not because they’re educational institutions. Since Title IX legislation is aimed squarely at the educational institutions, that dog isn’t going to hunt. You’d have as much luck using Title IX to reform the Fraternal Order of Elks.

        Regardless of how much you like government, doesn’t it strike you as a little saddening that the avant-garde is in such a sorry condition that people think that the state should do its work for it? It seems to me that any avant-garde worthy of the name would disdain that notion.

        • Francis Thiebaud Winters

          Curious Franklin, how many nudes were in the show? I think I read there
          were 35 paintings, I am guessing regardless of “provocative” poses,
          etc., generally the girls (although not necessarily the cats) were
          clothed, scantily or not. Sidebar: Saltz actually has already weighed in
          on his perceived curatorial failing at the MET w/ Balthus. You might be
          interested:
          http://www.vulture.com/2013/09/saltz-on-balthus-the-guitar-lesson.html?mid=twitter_nymag

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            I gotta say, that’s a great Saltz review.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Let’s keep in mind what was said in your initial comment, which is that the quality of Balthus show isn’t the point of this piece. I think we’re getting stuck on a point that doesn’t have much to do with the larger conversation here. He’s simply an example of an artist who makes male-oriented paintings and has a show up at a major New York museum right now.

          • Francis Thiebaud Winters

            The quality of the writer’s dismissal of the Balthus show (presumably sight unseen, now further evidenced by the stats…i.e MOSTLY NOT a show nudes….) is relevant to the overall credibility of the piece, regardless of whether it is addressing an otherwise valid issue (which I don’t disagree with).

          • Francis Thiebaud Winters

            And yes, he’s a dude, but one who claims he not a fan of Balthus, yet gets that the work is far from ‘bland’.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Francis, I’m copy and pasting your comments below so you can get a sense of both the tone and how much you’re repeating yourself:

            1. Balthus….”bland”??? Really??? Axe to grind much??? Your larger point is a good one, obviously….your assessment of Balthus isn’t doing a whole lot for your credibility as critic, however.

            2. …the MET’s promo image isn’t nude, btw.

            3. And yes, he’s a dude, but one who claims he not a fan of Balthus, yet gets that the work is far from ‘bland’.

            4. I’m not much a fan of Indian food, but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as “bland”. Art criticism in theory is more than a list of “likes” and “dislikes”….

            5. The quality of the writer’s dismissal of the Balthus show (presumably sight unseen, now further evidenced by the stats…i.e MOSTLY NOT a show nudes….) is relevant to the overall credibility of the piece, regardless of whether it is addressing an otherwise valid issue (which I don’t disagree with).

            I’m sure I don’t need to point this out, but you’ve disagreed with Whitney’s assertion of blandness 4 separate times. It’s making you look crazy. I understood it the first time, because I have basic cognitive abilities. You’ve also gone out of your way to prove that the exhibition wasn’t all nudes, because that’s suppose to support your argument that this writer isn’t credible.

            Your point has been heard. The comment section is a space to have a conversation and I’m having a real one with everyone here but you. That’s because all of your comments are made towards the end of attacking the writer, and not discussing the issues brought up by the piece. Making your point once is fine, but delivering the same point, five times, in the same comment forum, is abusive.

          • Franklin Einspruch

            If by “great,” you mean “ridiculous.” Right now I’m challenging Saltz to produce a scintilla of evidence for his narrative angle, that the Met “won’t” show The Guitar Lesson because Sabine Rewald “didn’t bend the rules of her show.” My question: Does he know for a fact that the loan was available and Rewald or the Met made a decision not to put it in “Cats and Girls”? Let’s see if he answers. In the meantime, he didn’t see the show either.

          • Franklin Einspruch

            I just thumbed through the catalogue, and I count seven nudes or paintings with nudes in them among the works that were in the show.

        • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

          I gotta admit that Saltz archives don’t look that good for gender representation. NYMag is a celebrity driven magazine that buries all his reviews of emerging artists in the back pages, but still – he wrote about more women in 2012. All that said, I know there have been years where he’s literally been counting the number of reviews he wrote about women, so I don’t think this is as ugly as you do.

          As for the Title IX, I’m looking at your argument and a bunch of links. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems like you’ve got a point. That said, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to revisit amendments like this because they give us a point for lobbying. Title IX has been a powerful force in the states, and for those of us who have been talking about the issue of representation for years without seeing any change, even considering the possibility of something like this can be eye opening.

        • np

          If the museum receives federal funding for its educational activities, it would probably fall under Title IX. See, for example, Piascik v. Cleveland Museum of Art, 426 F. Supp. 779 (N.D. Ohio 1976), in which the Ohio district court found that the Cleveland Museum of Art was covered by Title IX because it received federal assistance for its educational programs.

          • Franklin Einspruch

            Here you go: Piascik v. Cleveland Museum of Art, 426 F. Supp. 779 (N.D. Ohio 1976). The plaintiff attempted to bring a sexual discrimination suit against the defendant under Title VII, not IX, and lost.

          • np

            It was brought under Title VII and Title IX – Title IX is the 20 U.S.C. 1681 part. The relevant portion of the opinion is footnote 1, which finds that the museum falls under 20 USC 1681, i.e. under Title IX. “Dr. Lee’s testimony indicates that the Museum receives federal assistance for an educational program it operates for the East Cleveland school system… The Court is satisfied that the operation of the Museum qualifies as an “education(al) . . . activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”” Sure, the plaintiff lost. My only point was that she was not barred from bringing suit against the museum under Title IX.

          • Franklin Einspruch

            From bringing suit against the museum in regards to employment there, as a guard. Actually, now I want to see this happen: female artists suing museums en masse, based on a footnote in a singular, four-decade-old district court ruling, for lack of inclusion into their programs, forcing curators to testify that their rejection was based aesthetic choices. Soon, the museums decide that accepting federal money isn’t worth the legal liability and court costs, and the Republican Party achieves a longstanding dream to eliminate federal spending on the visual arts. Let’s do this.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            You really believe curators make decisions based only on aesthetic criteria?

          • Franklin Einspruch

            Hardly. On the contrary. But that’s what they’re going to have to tell the judge if they don’t want the book thrown at them in a scenario in which Title IX is enforceable in the way that’s being proposed here. Clearly you don’t remember the hilarious formalist defenses of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work when NEA funding went in front of Congress in the ’90s.

          • np

            No, not just “in regards to employment.” Title IX
            is not an employment statute: it makes it unlawful for any person to be “excluded
            from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to
            discrimination” on the basis of sex by an educational program receiving federal
            money. Not sure about your dystopian scenario – would love to see the press that would result if MOMA dropped federal funding because they don’t want to be covered by federal anti-discrimination statutes. I would note that Title IX has had a pretty significant beneficial effect in female collegiate sports. See, for example, http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/2011_8_battle_in_college_athletics_final.pdf.

          • Franklin Einspruch

            I realize that Title IX is not an employment statute. I’m saying that Paiscik v. CMA is an attempt to turn it into one, and it didn’t work. I would also love to see the press resulting from MoMA dropping federal funding to avoid discrimination lawsuits, but probably not for the same reason as you – I wouldn’t characterize my scenario as “dystopian.” More like “makes popcorn, puts feet up.”

  • Francis Thiebaud Winters

    Balthus….”bland”??? Really??? Axe to grind much??? Your larger point is a good one, obviously….your assessment of Balthus isn’t doing a whole lot for your credibility as critic, however.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      People like different artists. CVF just wrote a two page article on why the Propellor Group’s show is great all of which, I couldn’t agree less with. I did not, however, conclude that his credibility as a critic was shot.

      • Francis Thiebaud Winters

        2 pages v. 1 word…..

        • Francis Thiebaud Winters

          I guess I’m also compelled to point out that (I assume) CVF saw the show….the MET’s promo image isn’t nude, btw.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Why does it matter if the promo image isn’t a nude? Is your point that the Met’s show is absent of nudes?

            Anyway, Whitney may have seen the show, but I can tell you I haven’t, and I don’t like his paintings either. The scenes he sets up are often uninteresting and that’s matched by an uniform treatment of surface. Meh.

            For the record, I also don’t like Picasso, and think a lot of Duchamp’s work is dismissible. Have I shot my credibility yet? ;)

          • Francis Thiebaud Winters

            I’m not much a fan of Indian food, but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as “bland”. Art criticism in theory is more than a list of “likes” and “dislikes”….

        • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

          Look, that’s just more material to hang CVF by, imo.

  • rachelwetzler

    A few of Andrew Russeth’s recent reviews and features:

    -An extensive profile of Barbara London: http://galleristny.com/2013/08/now-hear-this-for-42-years-barbara-london-has-been-making-noise-at-moma/
    -Erika Vogt at the New Museum: http://galleristny.com/2013/09/erika-vogt-stranger-debris-roll-roll-roll-at-the-new-museum/
    -Quilts at the Brooklyn Museum: http://galleristny.com/2013/08/workt-by-hand-hidden-labor-and-historical-quilts-at-the-brooklyn-museum/
    -Kim Gordon at White Columns: http://galleristny.com/2013/09/design-office-with-kim-gordon-since-1980-at-white-columns/
    -Gretchen Bender at the Kitchen: http://galleristny.com/2013/09/gretchen-bender-tracking-the-thrill-at-the-kitchen/
    -Carissa Rodriguez at Front Desk Apparatus: http://galleristny.com/2013/09/carissa-rodriguez-la-collectionneuse-at-front-desk-apparatus/
    -Talia Chetrit at Leslie Fritz: http://galleristny.com/2013/09/talia-chetrit-at-leslie-fritz/

    Which is to say, of all the people to call out for their inauthentic concern about gender disparity in the art world or lack of interest in women’s art, he seems like an odd choice.

    • Francis Thiebaud Winters

      haven’t read the others but he slammed Kim G. pretty hard….

      • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

        Yeah, and it’s easy to slam Kim Gordon because she’s been making bad work for years.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      Naw, unless I’ve missed the op-eds, I think that point stands. That’s important too.

  • http://duanethomasart.com/ Duane Thomas

    Jesus H F’ing christ… if you didn’t have such a hard on for “contemporary” art you’d see that there’s plenty of this: http://womenpaintingwomen.blogspot.com/

    open your eyes MFAer’s!

    I’m not saying that women haven’t been marginalized because they have been but I’m saying current systems are marginalizing.

    It’s fucking NOah’s ark out there! NO to you! NO to you! NO to you, but ohh yes to you Mr. guytoncolenbradleyaldrichsmithprincefuckyfuckfuck.

    fuckyfuckfuck… can I be tweeted for that please :)

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