I’m getting tired of seeing listings for dude-dominated digital art shows. Just to count what I’ve seen in the last month: The USB Show, at Paris’s Le Point Éphémère two weeks ago, invited one woman artist to participate out of 21; Astral Projection Abduction Fantasy, which ran from February 23rd to March 23rd in Dublin, included three women out of 29 artists; and the April 12th BYOB show, in Milan, only included 9 women out of 42 invited artists. These shows might as well be Lilith Fair, though, relative to the worst recent offender, Dotcom, a show organized by the anonymous collective BSNP at the Centre d’Art Bastille in France. That group show runs through June 10th and includes no women at all.
Dotcom artist Sterling Crispin has little patience for those who dare to complain. “The gender conversation is so boring” he lamented on a recent Facebook thread, before reflecting a little, “maybe I’m a man and so I have the privilege of saying that, but seriously, come on, let’s get post gender”. He then suggested that the artists who choose to complain only stigmatise themselves as “women artists” rather than solving the issue.
Crispin subsequently deleted the Facebook thread—one hopes because he realized his response was probably more harmful than saying nothing at all—but he remains in the show. To the best of my knowledge, no artists refused to participate, which, frankly, reflects just as poorly on the participants as it does on the curator. As artist and curator Sally McKay explains:
As a curator in the 21st century, if I put together a show with all one gender (especially a large group show) I have to know that the show is therefore going to be about gender, whether I like it or not. If I do it by accident, then I am missing a big piece of what it is to be a curator. If I do it on purpose, then I have to own it in the curatorial premise of the exhibition. As an artist, if I am curated into an exhibition of all-women then I ask the curator, “Why all women? I don’t identify specifically as a female artist…what is this show really about? Maybe it’s not really the right context for my work.”
It’s important for male artists to be similarly sensitive about how their work is contextualized. Unless you’re an artist specifically working in the “dude art” genre, it’s best not to have your work identified by such an easy trope. Better-known participating artists like Michael Manning, Constant Dullaart, and Travess Smalley, in particular, could and should have made a point about this.
When artist Lorna Mills asked Hugo Scibetta, an artist who helped put the show together, about the curatorial decisions, he responded defensively. “We choosed [sic] those pieces because of the artworks and not because of the people and their sex,” he told her over Facebook. “This reaction makes me feel like you’re a frustrated person, I hope you are not.”
This unwillingness to accept the responsibility of curation is not becoming. These shows tell a story about the participants of net art; that half of them are left out means that the show is worthless as a historical document. These aren’t exhibitions organized around a conceit so tightly bound that the curator only has a few artists to choose from, they’re large group shows centered on a loose premise. There’s no reason or excuse for the disparity.
Gender equality doesn’t sideline art; we know that from the work of any number of digital art curators who manage to include women. Lauren Cornell at Rhizome and Lindsay Howard of 319 Scholes both consistently produce smart, gender-balanced exhibitions, and that track record isn’t an accident. It’s the result of a kind of professionalism that not only demands curators carefully consider how the content of a show may be received, but possess the self-awareness to make sure that happens.