Frustrated, I decided to do a performance about being a female artist in the artworld. I wanted to illustrate just how hard it is to achieve visibility/success if you are not a white male artist. My performance venue? Spring 1883 – a Melbourne art fair: the perfect nexus of artworld private interests and public consumption.
Spring 1883 is an Art Fair in Melbourne exhibiting the work of artists represented by numerous national and international private galleries. Art Fairs are political events in that they reflect the market of the times, and they reveal who is included and who is excluded. It all seems perfectly natural when you don’t look too closely. But when you do, you see that women are still significantly under-represented by the majority of private galleries. What a surprise!
So in my rage, I thought I would dress up like a beauty queen. I would appoint myself “Miss Spring 1883”, the beauty queen of the art fair. Beauty pageants are an antiquated practise. Outdated (yet mysteriously back in vogue) they fetishise female appearance and youth above all. Yet interestingly, people continue to ask beauty queens what they would do if they could change the world – perfect for me! A perfect guise which would allow me to discuss with fair-goers the antiquated attitudes that still exist towards ‘othered’ artists in the artworld today.
As Miss Spring 1883, I distributed my stats on male vs other representation for all the exhibiting galleries on the eve of the VIP Preview (17 August 2016). And unsurprisingly, men still rule the roost, being over represented in pretty much all of the galleries except for Daine Singer, Grey Noise Dubai, Hugo Michell, Karen Woodbury and Sarah Scout Presents. That’s 5 galleries out of 26. When you consider that in Australia, 74% of art school graduates were female in 2014, one wonders what has happened. Could it be unconscious gender bias at the root of all our problems…still? Clearly, white males are *still* the smartest people around.
image: Vasili Kaliman
Images: Elizabeth Presa (mum)
I positioned myself at the entrance of the Spring 1883 Art Fair and accosted people as they entered the building to see the fair. My approaching style was friendly, happy but wilful, much like a charity mugger or evangelical christian. I chatted to visitors about what I was doing and gave them my stats sheet, and people were very polite generally speaking (people are polite at art events as viewing art is a somewhat tense experience for most people, and entering commercial spaces can be intimidating). Determined to speak to as many people as possible, I tried not to let anyone slip the net.
Commentary on my stats sheet by me, at the end of the long VIP Preview night
Responses ranged from bored (some collectors) to offended (one older woman was offended by me mentioning the term ‘vagina’), to challenged (some people had honestly never considered the issue) to moved (many female artists thanked me for doing it). Women artists in particular responded to my performance, and it was honestly a moving experience to hear their stories, wondering why things hadn’t worked out after all their hard work.
I also had a great time talking to year 12 students studying art at VCA, and letting them know about the gender bias that continues on in the art world. No one told me at art school – the upcoming generation should know!
Miss Spring dress rehearsal in my loungeroom
My images are not plentiful because I was performing, and I didn’t organise anyone to document it. People took selfies with me and the like, most images are on facebook or instagram. I wasn’t paid for the performance, I just wanted to do it. And thank goodness no one stopped me.
19 Aug 2016