Basquiat 1982

Above: A painting of a head by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1982. Credit: Sotheby's/Fair use.

Phallocentric Displays

The gender hierarchy is still very much in place when I walk into an art exhibition in a public gallery or museum in London. It's very often paintings mainly by men, photos mainly by men, and sculptures mainly by men. What will it take for curators to understand that those days are over? What is their explanation for the slowness to change? Is it maybe that they don't want to change? It must be because there is no other logical reason: the curators have had at least forty years with gender equality on their to-do agendas. Last week I was lecturing on feminism and I asked students to talk about the experience of walking into an epoch-type art exhibition, only to find that it is all paintings by men. "It's frustrating more than anything," was one reply. Yes, it is frustrating. What is being asked for is this: gender balance in every room of every exhibition every show every time. That's all. This is not about what women want or what feminists want it is about what any ordinary person walking in off the street wants: to see creative imaginative art by men and women in equal proportion. (In the case of a space that has been given over to solo exhibitions, it is perfectly reasonable to presume and demand that the gender balance over, say, the course of a year, will be demonstrably equitable.) Forty years grace has already been awarded to the curators in order for them to change. But if one looks around the museums and galleries today it's pitiful, lamentable. It's still mainly art by men in the collections and mainly art by men in the paying exhibitions. The London art museums and public art galleries: the last great bastion of the masculinist, patriarchal, phallocentric, male-dominant, male-superior outlook.

(9 November 2018)