Thursday, March 24, 2011

The big enchilada. Our male dominated art industry.

This fits in so very well with my numerous posts on "where are the women artists." There has been a lot of internet chatter about the lack of women represented in Tyler Green's annual March Madness challenge. He asked readers to vote on the “greatest work of art since World War II.” 

Sharon Butler coordinated a cool and intelligent response on her blog, "Two Coats of Paint." The essay is in two parts. The first part is a response to Tyler Green's choices for which he denies any responsibility. According to him, they were done by "committee" and it's look ma, no hands. Mr. Green has become very defensive about the contest but it points out how easy it is to leave out women and minorities. The second part of the essay starts making lists with other people's choices. It's a fascinating look at contemporary art and raises some very important questions. Who decides? Who questions the decision makers? 

There is a marvelous film by the Guerrilla Girls which looked at these issues. Made over 30 years ago, it shows that the questions they posed are still relevant - and for women, people of color and other marginalized artists - still very painful and present.

The list was put together by a guest panel of five curators.  It features a total of 64 works of art. Of these, a sum total of three are by women (Cindy Sherman, Maya Lin and Marina Abramovic). Two are by artists who are non-white (Kerry James Marshall and Lin, who is in for a two-fer). Almost all of the artists represented are from the U.S. or Western Europe. Andy Warhol makes the list five times. Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns are each represented by four works, Gerhard Richter gets three hits.

As Carmen pointed out in her blog at C-Monster:
"I’d never be the sort to oppose a good gimmick to goose web traffic, but it did rankle me to see this list. For one, it seems to tell a very narrow of art history. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, provided the labels are cleared up: In which case, we could re-baptize the tournament “The Best Art Work Created by a Dude Living in in London, New York or Berlin Sometime Between 1945 and 1960.” (But I suppose that doesn’t have that same ring to it.) Two, I was disappointed to see that a blogger who has taken arts institutions to task for being less than diverse, would publish a list that appeared to be the exact opposite. Three, I had to wonder if the world really needs that many Jasper Johns flags. I mean, really..."

From Brian Dupont's blog.
"This is the second year Tyler Green has given his readers a set of brackets ostensibly for the art world. Last year he pitted the America’s abstract painters against one another (Cy Twombly beat out Ellsworth Kelly for the crown), but this year’s version is a bit more problematic. He aims to present a tournament of the greatest post-war works of art, but has instead managed to expose just how ingrained some of the systematic biases that haunt art and its attendant institutions can be....more at:

Sharon Butler: "The answer is that because Mr. Green’s game has managed to illustrate quite succinctly how easy it is to exclude women and minorities and still have everyone involved remain blameless. Whether it be a small lark of a bracket or the larger art world, it is too easy to point at a system or process as an excuse without actually examining who set up the system or how. It may be “just a game”, but games allow us to distill and process some of life’s messier and complex interactions into a simpler form that is more comprehensible for its abstraction. In short, they make it easier to see what is fair, and I think it becomes very clear that the system as devised is not (either in the brackets or the art world)."

"The degree to which I resist calling these "the greatest works of art of the last 65 years" is the degree to which I would also challenge the lists of the "experts" on the same premise. This exercise exposes the false objectivity, false hierarchy and false certainty embedded in the narrative of greatness. In particular, the conception of artistic achievement in terms of single "master"pieces is a crucial flaw if the goal is to identify artistic importance. It privileges a certain type of brilliant, amazing and important work over other equally or even more important work in a way that does not feel truthful." (Butler, Two Coats of Paint).

The lists that have been posted are fantastic, far more comprehensive and thorough that Tyler's original contest. Do read the comments on all the blogs. It's well worth your time.

1 comment:

A Cuban In London said...

This is one of those subjects that has been discussed so many times here in the UK. Just recently, and jumping to another medium, we had a debate about the role of female film-makers in the British movie industry.

Your post is very thorough, but I guess this is not a topic that will just go away and die a slow death. There's a lot of misconception, not just from the men who run the arts world, but also from women who don't want gender to become their main identity marker.

Thanks a lot for you column.

Greetings from London.