Reflecting on Yesterday’s Conversation About Dudes and their Shows

by Paddy Johnson on September 25, 2013 From The Comments

Balthus at The Met

Turns out the internet has plenty to say on the subject of dudes and their shows. After Whitney Kimball published her piece rounding up all the male-centric shows this fall and the conversation that’s followed, we spent the better part of the day, continuing to take part in said discussion.

And I gotta say, the talk has been pretty good. As someone who’s been participating in this discussion for more than eight years, I can say without reservation, that the level of discourse has risen significantly. We’ve stopped whaling at each other quite so much. Different solutions, such as Title IX, have been tabled, and intelligently debated. We haven’t seen the change I’d like, but my hope, is that it’s just a matter of time before we do.

A few commenter highlights below:

Artist and curator Daniel Keller disagrees that his show “Liquid Autism” is a real offender on the dude list, since he wanted to explore maleness in the show:

Daniel Keller: 1. Yes, I think if someone curates a ‘token’ woman into a majority male show only to preemptively deflect any potential criticism that the show is sexist, then it qualifies as affirmative action curating. And no I don’t think its a good thing if it does little to change the underlying problem and yet simultaneously prevents it from being openly discussed. I think it is quite possible for a show with 95% men in it to be far more patronizingly sexist than one with 100%

2. I think that as a man I should be able to curate a show that somewhat ambivalently presents a chauvinistic tendency as a point of reflection without it automatically being mistaken as a celebration of it. I intended it critically!! can I shout this over and over again until I’m heard? Lol. If I put any women into this show, even if (Especially if) I really loved the work, I think it would have undermined the gesture. That being said, the idea that gender was the only rubric is also a misunderstanding. The show was aiming to discuss a bunch of other things that have largely been ignored in the wake of the whole genderama drama. Moreover I really only wanted the show to be implicitly about gender and it accidentally became quite explicit due to this ongoing debate.

Paddy Johnson: I wonder if it’s possible to launch a show that’s implicitly about gender and not have it become explicit in this environment? It’s been a hot topic for about four or five years straight. And that’s because it’s a topic that needs to be discussed. It’s harder to change the ratio than one would think.

Sharon Arnold: Just as an aside to the general point of the AFC post (though not entirely unrelated) – Daniel Keller made a point that is really sticking with me: a man should be able to curate a show that somewhat ambivalently presents a chauvinistic tendency as a point of reflection without it automatically being mistaken as celebration of it.

Is this possible right now? I kind of want it to be – he is speaking to an (not the only) experience of being a man or living as a man that is worth discussing objectively without it being a trigger – but then that’s the question, can it ever not be a trigger?

Last November I was asked to curate a response to Elles: Women of the Centre Pompidou at Cornish College of the Arts. I had already curated a 40 woman show without using the signifier earlier in the year as a precursor to Elles, and there were a hundred other pop-up shows in response to Elles. It got me to thinking about the male experience in a city that was overrun with art shows about women only. Was it a turning of tables, a cliche, or was the environment marginalizing to both genders? Did men feel silenced and what was that like? I curated a show of men responding to either the artists in Elles or the idea of it. The lashback from both men and women was not unexpected but really interesting. Some men I invited right off the bat vehemently questioned my motives or didn’t want to be seen in opposition to the point of the SAM exhibition; some got it right away and understood the point. My point was I’m sort of tired of my gender being used as an opportunity and that Elles was insulting because institutions really just ought to have an equal amount of women artists, period. And I wanted to know what men had to say about it. I felt the show was for the most part, successful. One piece rose to the top as a “scandal” but that’s too long a story to tell here. Overall the entire thing raised a ton of great questions about male voices, and when/where they’re heard and how; and institutions versus gender. We have a lot of work to do towards equality (for women) but I still want all the voices heard. Even if they seem like triggers.

And to the point of your comment Paddy about changing the ratio being harder than we think – I really feel like Elles brought that point home. When can we stop having shows about women in institutions to prove a point, and just have women *in* the institutions?

Jennifer Chan speaks about gender as it specifically applies to New Media:

Jennifer Chan: Gender distribution in new media art as of late (2013) is for some reason viewed as dismissible (young apathy=conservatism?) but there’s been a healthy amount of discussion with it in tech since donglegate and tropes vs. women. Sometimes i don’t know how anyone expects women to “stop complaining” unless and until something changes. Sometimes I don’t know how anything is supposed to change if women don’t complain.

Arguments that “feminist art” is either a ghetto or a badge is so 2010. There is something structurally wrong with historical and contemporary art education if male artists feel entitled to programming male-heavy shows or threatened by an all-female show, especially when the female:male ratio in many artschools and grad programs are so heavily female-identified, yet women continue to have less breakthrough solos, less awards and sell for less. I’m preaching to the choir. I really think curators should do their research and stop referring to the same pre-mainstream names. (blither blither yawn yawn yawn)

I am teaching my students to ignore the 2000 year canon they are faced with and work with content and issues that interest them today.

Finally, artist and long time blogger Franklin Einspruch and I had this exchange this morning. We’ll likely debate some more, but you get the gist.

Franklin Einspruch: 1. Did you actually go and see the Balthus show at the Met? Just asking.

2. Your taking of Jerry Saltz seriously as an advocate for the little guy (or girl, as you’re implying here) is misplaced. He blithers such advocacy, obnoxiously, but when he returns to his rounds he’s back to salivating over Jay-Z or Jeff Koons. As far as I can tell from the NY Magazine archives, the last time he addressed work by a female artist at any similar length, it was Cornelia Parker’s “The Maybe” – Tilda Swinton in a vitrine. He belittled it. That was six months ago.

3. 501(c)3 status applies to a wide range of institutions besides educational ones. Suing MoMA under Title IX is really not a great idea. Even so, do you realize that you’re calling for the apparatus of the state to step in because the avant-garde is failing to do its job? Rosenberg’s avant-garde ghosts have never looked so wispy.

Paddy Johnson: Hey Franklin,

I haven’t seen the Balthus show at the Met. I don’t know if Whitney has, but she’s obviously seen enough of his work to be able to render an opinion on the paintings one way or the other. Whatever her answer is to your question, I don’t think it’s consequential to the piece.

You make a good point about Saltz not writing about as many women as he could, but you and I both know he’s repeatedly taken up this subject as an issue. Jen Dalton’s show at Ed Winkleman a few years back revealed that he wrote about more women than Roberta. I don’t think he’d left the Village Voice for New York Magazine yet though, which probably makes a difference.

In any event though, I don’t see his interest in celebrities as implicitly contradicting his investment in the art world and emerging artists. I think he sees a world in which art and pop culture merge as positive because art reaches more people and I think there’s some value in that. I don’t wholly agree with it myself because the entertainment industry is so vacuous, but the desire for art to reach as many people as possible comes from good intentions IMO. So too do his political beliefs, which tend towards a liberal interest in seeing a more democratic art world. That means when he sees shows with only one woman in it, he gets upset. I’ve got no issues with that.

Finally, I can’t speak for Whitney, but I am not afraid of the “apparatus of the state”. I like government, and I wish there was more of it. Bring on Title IX.

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