The Numbers Game: Male-Female Inequality in Exhibitions
Despite its flaws, “Lonely Girl” is rare in both the art and digital world for being an all-women exhibition, with all artists under the age of 30. Many of the respondents have organized exhibitions of women to provide a counterbalance to the many male-dominant net art shows, and have piped up online whenever there’s a dude-centric exhibition. Most recently, Daniel Keller’s Liquid Autist, a show including no females, prompted a flurry of contentious Facebook comments, followed by even more discussion on private Facebook groups. In the contemporary art world-at-large, blue-chippers like Gagosian and mega-museums like the Met have been called out for showing too many dudes. There have been demands for affirmative action in museums. The tug-of-war over male-female equality in exhibitions is far from over.
Still, it would be naiveto believe that seeking an equal ratio of men to women is the solution. Wanting equal numbers doesn’t get beyond, as Jennifer Chan put it, “the nature of female artist representation instead of quotas.” Of the same opinion, Lucy Chinen noted that she would “hate to legitimize the equality of an exhibition or book by the number of female names listed, [although] I do think that it is important to also have more female voices and perspectives present.” Overall, there’s a need for greater scrutiny about what these numbers mean. Many of the respondents struggled with the additional questions this need brought up. “Is there actually (that many) more male artists? Do female artists operate more consciously and not say ‘yes’ to exhibitions so quickly? By being a female artist do you still fall into a category of having to make work about being a female?”
Rachel de Joode, a 30-something-artist who’s been around a bit longer than those in Lonely Girl, has organized an all-female series of exhibitions (and she’s not the only one); she explained that series “was more an investigation for myself in the role of young female artists in the art-world.” de Joode, like most of the women I spoke with, try to use Facebook to promote the activities of their female colleagues. It’s necessary, given the commercial art world’s focus on launching male careers, where, she mentioned, “’young-man’s energy’ is something the art-world wants and craves for.” Museums and granting institutions, she added, are more benevolent to a male-female ratio. Still, the problem remains as she, and others I spoke with see it that, “Art is in the end (unfortunately) about galleries, collectors and sales and ‘the young male artist’ is considered a better investment than ‘the young female artist’.