December 9, 2014

2015 Prediction Nr. 1: The Boy’s Club Breathes Its Last

I wish art were more like fashion, looking ahead instead of back. While fashion is now busy predicting the trends of 2015, the art world is still going on about the best of 2014. I can’t even remember what I did last week, so I have no other choice than to talk about tomorrow. And I do have a very good feeling about 2015 - I see positive signs for change everywhere. A few of them come in the form of a “last rally”, like this one:

By the end of the year you have to let yourself go once in a while and I did so last Friday in Blain⎢Southern. I got very worked up just reading the press release upon entering the gallery and seeing from the corner of my eye the words VIOLATE ME. That was enough to get me going and I started my feministing with the gallery woman sitting behind the desk, of whom I got only the first name: Marie. Sed Tantum Dic Verbo (Just Say The Word) is curated by Glenn O’Brien and it examines the use of words in art by artists who all have/had a strong relationship to the curator. These are: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Stefan Brüggemann, Dan Colen, Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe, Charles Gaines, John Giorno, Wayne Gonzales, Douglas Gordon, Brion Gysin, Ray Johnson, Atsushi Kaga, Joseph Kosuth, McDermott & McGough, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, Rob Pruitt, Ed Ruscha, Tom Sachs, Dash Snow, Lawrence Weiner, Christopher Wool and Aaron Young. That list of names made my blood run cold and so did the short biography on Glenn O’Brien who “wrote monographs on many artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Freeman & Lowe, Mark Grotjahn, Richard Prince, Tom Sachs, Keith Sonnier, Dash Snow, Andy Warhol and Christopher Wool.” And then I looked around, searching for more evidence in the exhibit, and of course, one always finds what one is looking for: not only “VIOLATE ME”, but also “SEX CHANGES ROMANCE”, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER”, “I MET MY FIRST GIRL. HER NAME WAS SALLY. WAS THAT A GIRL WAS THAT A GIRL THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE KEPT ASKING” and the nice joke “WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BAR AND CLITORIS? MOST MEN CAN FIND A BAR.” And yeah, obviously, I didn’t take into account the context in which this art had been made and by whom, but WTF [here is where a blood vessel burst cheering]: the cynical discrimination technique of the boy’s club will find its end in 2015.

McDermott & McGough, The Vilest Way, 2005. Image courtesy Cheim & Read, New York. Photo: Christian Glaeser, September 2014

In the meantime Marie and I were not exactly on the same page about my apocalyptical thinking. She explained to me that none of O’Brien’s women friends would deliver a piece, so the women were to blame, not the curator. When I turned even paler with anger, she told me that there is no problem whatsoever in the art world. Her argument was not the gallery that she works for but another one: Johann König Galerie, which has like 20 female artists and only 4 male artists and that balances out a shows like this one at Blain⎢Southern. Later I checked Johann König’s website and the gallery has 15 female artists and 12 male artists. Great, luckily we now have Johann König to balance out the whole Berlin art scene, for instance galleries like Johnen Galerie that presents 32 male artists and 3 female artists. If we must go in for statistics, here is one on the USA. By the way, this visit to Blain⎢ Southern was not an isolated incident - last Wednesday I noticed that there was only one show of a woman artist in a total of 11 galleries in the Lindenstraße. And I don’t have to pain my memory to remember the shock I got at the Hans Richter show in Martin Gropius Bau, curated by Timothy Benson of LACMA, in which Richter was shown together with his colleagues Moholy-Nagy (no, not Lucia!), Eggeling, Ruttmann, Van Doesburg etc. Same for the period after 1945: Cage, Duchamp, Leger, Ernst. There was a woman who made it onto the wall, Irene Bayer-Hecht, for making a portrait of her husband Herbert Bayer. On top of it, the introduction of the exhibition catalogue was written by the current 5 male directors of Centre Pompidou, LACMA, Martin Gropius, etc.. And Hans Richter worked, so the catalogue introduction stated, with the "who's who" of the 20th century avant-garde: "Hans Arp, John Cage, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Mies van der Rohe, Kurt Schwitters and Tristan Tzara." Amen. 

At the Hans Richter show in Martin Gropius Bau, a little blurry since I was shaken

Not to say that I like womens' shows, especially, as my friend Katharina Raab said, when they are named after the size of a mattress. Last Saturday the exhibition Queensize opened at ME Collectors Room, displaying the works of women artists in the collection. No, I didn’t visit the show, no need to do so. Why do such shows get explicitly promoted as “womens' shows”? Why not act like Blain⎢Southern and bury your head in the sand?  Let me finish with a few don’ts that I gathered during art hopping in 2014 on how to show the work of women artists:

-don’t show women artists together as if they’re handicapped 
-if you happen to curate a show with only women, no need to emphasize it. It just happened to be like that, right, just like it happens to be that some shows are exclusively male. -don’t show the work of a women artist next to that of their male life partner 
-don’t historicize the woman artist by putting early 20th century chairs in front of the exhibit, you don’t do it with Marcel Duchamp either. 

And to end on a positive note: can't wait for The Feminist Utopia Project of 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Is that gender discussion in the arts useful, it is in politics, but I always thought art was different, it isn't I see, the issue of power still remains vivid, but "non essere pertinente"