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.