Curatorial Gender Bias Still Exists

by Clara Olshansky on July 9, 2013 · 14 comments Opinion

Woman's Struggle via The Medium

Ever forget a gender exists? It seems a little hard to believe. Nonetheless, women often get overlooked. Theresa Anderson, a Denver-based art blogger and artist reminded us on Friday, via facebook message, that curators are unintentionally but unrepentantly excluding women from their digital art shows.

Iver Zeile, a Denver gallery-owner and curator, recently commissioned seven artists to create works for a show for the Denver Digerati motion-based art program, Mirage, and to be a part of the Digerati’s permanent collection. As it happened, all seven were male.

One of the commissioned men, Chris Coleman, “Saw the same issue and decided to rectify without marginalizing (aka declaring it).” Coleman curated a show through the same program, Denver Digerati, and included only female animation and motion-based artists without promoting the show as gendered—sort of a “tit for tat” approach.

Though we appreciate the effort, “rectify” might be a little strong for what’s been achieved. These artists did not receive the commission the male artists did. Also, we’re not sure that “separate but equal” (please excuse the loaded term) is the right approach. The solution isn’t to build a parallel female art world to compete with the male art world; calling attention to the gender divide doesn’t address the underlying issue:

Denial.

Iver Ziele wrote on facebook, “Yes, women make motion based art, but there are lots of layers to curating this program and right now this is where we are at with it. I try not to necessarily look at gender when it comes to curating art.” The implication here is that it just so happened none of the women were as good as the men. Later, Ziele wrote, “Ask Chris [Coleman] about his choices for the Friday Flash program and how that came about, I’m sure it would be an interesting discussion but I think the group just formed organically.” Yes, the same Chris Coleman who explicitly said he tried to rectify the gender imbalance in his show.

Anderson avoided this bizarre claim in her response, saying, “I guess my issue is that all seven people who received commissions are men. It’s a bit flat. Obviously there are lots of good women making motion based art as Chris was able to pluck 7 women so easily.” Ziele interpreted these words as an attack rather than a critique, “Well gosh, Theresa, I’ll just let you take the reins on this program. It sounds like you are more up on how this should be done than I am.”

We saw many similar sentiments to Ziele’s expressed in the comments section of our post about the same issue in April 2012. One user wrote, “This is not a real argument; you are trying to evade the question that is actually at hand. Seriously, where is it explicitly observable that curators prefer men to women?” But since when does a 7:0 male:female ratio not show an explicit preference?

We doubt that the organizers of the shows we’ve highlighted are a reflection of overt sexism. That said, good curation reflects the variety of voices making art. Whenever we see an exhibition showcasing the work of only one gender we need to ask ourselves if that criteria has been met.

  • Theresa Anderson

    Thanks for weighing in on this conversation that was going on last week in Denver. I’m happy to report that Ivar Zeile has come back to the discussion with a positive attitude towards my critique of the program. I’m betting that the Denver Digerati, as a representation of motion-based art, is poised to become a stronger presence on the international scene. Please feel free to follow my posts and information about all the artists included in tonight’s Friday Flash #3 on my Facebook and twitter feed. Check out how to apply at denverdigerati.com.

  • Chris Coleman

    Of course I am crushed by this. The reality is that I made an offhand comment on Facebook and now you have structured an entire narrative around it. Too bad you could not be bothered to talk to me about what I actually did and what my intentions were.

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

      Chris, if your comments made your intentions unclear then we would have contacted you. They were not. If your intentions have changed or where interpreted differently than intended, than this is the place to say so. You’re acting as if you’re a victim here, but haven’t articulated how our interpretation of your actions differs from your intentions.

      • Chris Coleman

        The comment was directed internally – I realized on starting my curation process that I did not know enough women working in this particular branch of the field – so I set about to use the process to educate myself. I looked only at artists I did not already know and via facebook especially encouraged people to share female artists with me. At the end I had a list of 18 artists, 3 of which were men. In the final culling process I was left with only female artists but knew that was not why I had chosen them (my decisions were made on conceptual connections) so pushed hard on everyone that it was critical they not call this a woman’s show. So yes, I saw the issue, and tried to rectify it in my practice and education and then worked hard to not marginalize the result. I realize that my hastily typed facebook comment, made while running errands that day was easily construed otherwise, but I guess that was why it was a facebook comment, and not an interview suitable for journalistic purposes.

        So, I stick by my comment, just not your reading of it. I will fully admit my knowledge of women working in motion graphics and animation is stunted (and I would claim they are a minority overall as well) and I am actively trying to change that. Also, I am ready to have a CONVERSATION, but sadly this article was not that – but it is why I am back here, adding more comments.

        This is the first year for commissions, so I am unsure why you mention 2 years Theresa.

        • Theresa Anderson

          from the Denver Digerati website-“Denver’s art community by recognizing five notable local artists who
          were commissioned to create new works specifically for the event. Those
          artists included Milton Croissant III, Joel Swanson, Phillipe Faulkner,
          Quentin Gonzalez and the team of Don Fodness / Alvin Gregorio.”

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

          Hey Chris,

          We’re having a conversation right now. I understand you would have liked greater representation than your facebook quote, but I don’t see that as a reason to dismiss what’s occurring in here.

          Anyway, I’m glad to have a little more background as to your process, but I’m not sure why you would conclude that after you specifically make a call for women artists, curate the show and decide to include only women that the show is not “a women’s show”. Your process makes your claim impossible to support.

          In fact, I’m curious why you want to make the claim at all? Would the show be better if it’s not “a women’s show”?

          • Chris Coleman

            Your interpretation is interesting and confounding to me. So I ask, if a curator realizes he needs to know more female artists, what is the process you would recommend? I cannot see where I could have done a single thing differently (other than going on facebook). Yes, by choosing to focus on artists I didn’t know, and accepting I didn’t know enough women in the field, I would end up with more women in the final list. In my mind I curated a show of great artists who were conceptually connected and whom i was previously unaware of. Yes they were all women, but that wasn’t important and was something I had to actively suppress because I did not want the artists and the show to be categorized. Are you saying I should have declared it a woman’s show?

            Im upset because I realized my bias, tried to do something about it and as a result, was still demonized.

            Theresa, I stand corrected – I didn’t realize they had called those commissions.

          • Theresa Anderson

            Chis,
            I actually loved that you pushed past your social boundaries and asked for recommendations from “friends.”
            And of note, I think that almost all of the works you
            curated were excellent and your graphics also great works themselves. Personally, I respect your work.

            I think this article is intended as a larger, international conversation about curatorial gender bias especially in motion-based arts. I did not view this as a personal attack on either you or Ivar.

            Denver is also not used to any real art criticism. We typically only hear what is super great about ourselves from our own insulated community. I hope this opens us up to real conversations about equity and diversity. It’s a huge conversation happening in multiple fields. Including our own.

          • Chris Coleman

            Theresa, I appreciate the kind words, and have pushed through this difficult conversation because I also feel we need criticality and a deeper look at the art in our city – and real conversations are hard.
            I get that it might not have been meant as a personal attack, but it used Ivar and I as “prime examples” of curatorial sexism – and since I care deeply about these issues, it was very personal. I look forward to continuing tackling and conversing about the issues.

          • Theresa Anderson

            I was going to just write an article about the work you did. Which I did last week after going to your curatorial exhibition. http://theresaandersonart.com/the-world-is-flat/ and then as I started to dig in deeper to the program I posted that link on how to submit on my facebook page and then that started THIS whole conversation.

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

            Are you saying I should have declared it a woman’s show?

            I don’t love the idea of calling anything a “woman’s show” because it gives the impression people need their own special table. That said, I think your process is essential to the show, and should be made as transparent as possible.

            Anyway, I’m sorry you feel demonized. That was not the intent of this post. Clara was simply expressing her own thoughts on what she thought was the largest issue when it comes to these sorts of issues. And she’s not wrong. Denial is a huge issue. It’s great that there are people like you trying to address the issue, even if we took issue with the initial framing.

          • Chris Coleman

            I wont discount the big picture premise – again, as I started my own process I saw a real imbalance in my knowledge. And it is true, the system still needs “pokes” to remind us all we still have issues to address. It was just so depressing to work so hard on a project and have this be the sole press representing it all.

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

            Yeah, I get that but the long view goal on that is important. The truth is, most things you do won’t receive press and when they do they may be about an issue related to the show, but not the show itself. Over time though, active participation tends to pay off in the way you want. It’s frustrating now, but it won’t always be that way.

  • Theresa Anderson

    This is interesting- I wrote my comment here last week after I saw Ivar Zeile at his gallery. He seemed to feel bad about mocking me on facebook. Now he’s unfriended me. I guess it’s okay for him to say what he wants but other people aren’t entitled to the same.
    And come on Chris. Have some integrity and stick by your comment. Are you okay with the fact that for the last two years all of the commissions have gone to men?
    Denver is entering a new stage and can only benefit from hard discussions that obviously some don’t care to have.

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