Although the perception and status of female artists within Australia has improved over the years, there are still major issues that need to be addressed. Recent study, The CoUNTess Report has shown that sexism is still insidiously woven into the institutional fabric of the mainstream art world that often goes undetected, or rather ignored.
The CoUNTess Report has been a benchmarking project and online resource on gender representation in the Australian contemporary art sector since 2008. Coinciding with International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March 2016, The CoUNTess Report released a new assessment revealing a higher percentage than previously recorded of female artists exhibiting in Australian galleries. However, there is a continuing imbalance of power with men holding more positions at senior levels and male artists significantly better represented by commercial galleries.
Elvis Richardson, artist, academic and author of The CoUNTess Report, has compiled and analysed data on education, prizes, funding, art media, organisational structure, and exhibitions of various types across a wide range of galleries including national, state and regional, as well as commercial, ARIs (Artist Run Galleries), and CAOs (Contemporary Art Spaces).
Overall, the report raises questions rather than provides answers. The continued imbalance of gender representation within the arts is an issue all too often ignored and we are left asking ‘how’ and ‘why’?
The study shows that the pool of male art graduates still have between three and four times the number of exhibition opportunities as the pool of female graduates. The study establishes that women are 74% of visual art graduates and 48% of exhibiting artists in ARI’s the most gender equal of the gallery types. On a brighter note, the percentage of female artists showing in CAOs rose from previous levels that were consistently below 40-45% in 2014.
Art prizes also took a turn for the better, awarding 56% of the prizes to women, though only 47% of the prize pool by value, whilst biennales also achieved percentage representation of women in the mid to high 40s. These small increases are possibly the result, and reflecting structure, of a mixed gender panel of judges and curators. Overall, the result indicates that it is possible to achieve equal opportunity in practice, and the question arises – with the percentage of women as high as 70% of the total pool of all artists at the point where they graduate from art schools, should 50/50 be the goal?
The report found that in state museum exhibitions held across Australia in 2014, 34% were female artists, 59% male artists and 7% were collaborations. Not surprising, considering these institutions are places of history, tradition and hierarchy. Richardson argues that the closer an artist gets to money, prestige and power the more likely they are to be male. Commercial galleries faired no better showing only 40% female artists.
The CoUNTess Report reveals that art media was the category where the widest gender imbalance was recorded with only 34% of female artists represented. A study of 2014 newspaper art reviews, longer than 800 words, revealed that the greater presence of women in exhibitions has gone largely ignored in these publications.
Art Almanac has provided a comprehensive list of galleries and exhibitions nation-wide each month for over 30 years. We respect and encourage the work of women artists in Australia and acknowledge their contribution. Editor Annie Sebel says “Art Almanac has a firm belief that the best work wins the coveted cover spot, we’re aware of the imbalance in coverage and representation of male and female artists. Previous years may have swung in a different direction, but we hope to have helped even out the art seesaw with seven of the last 11 covers featuring female artists.”
Art Almanac will continue to do our part in supporting all artists’ entitlement to equal opportunities and reward in an effort to neutralise the gender gap in the Arts.
Image: The CoUNTess report