“Society has changed” – Gender representation and Kaldor Public Art Projects

by Jenna Price and John Kavanagh

Jenna Price and John Kavanagh have been going to Kaldor Art Projects together since 1984. They’ve been journalists for longer than that.

In October 2019, the latest Countess Report was released. Created by Australian artist Elvis Richardson, the Report has published data on gender representation in Australian contemporary visual arts since 2008. The 2019 Report indicates an increased interest from major institutions in dealing with issues of gender inequity in the Australian arts sector. In this article, inspired by the Countess Report, Jenna Price explores the historical inclusion of women in Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Women artists might be making great strides towards equality in all of our major contemporary art institutions but that’s not yet reflected in the Kaldor Public Art Projects. Looks like they are trying to fix it right now. Fingers crossed.

Since 1969 and across 35 projects, only two women have been accorded the status of solo shows: Marina Abramovic and Vanessa Beecroft. And on only four occasions have women been named with equal billing to men – Charlotte Moorman with Nam Jun Paik in 1976; Jeanne-Claude with Christo, in the foundation project in 1969 and again in 1990; and more recently, Allora and Calzadilla in 2012.

It’s what prompted Australian artist Deborah Kelly to organise a “horn-in” at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2012. Kelly and others adorned themselves with horns and lay dead on the floor – a nod to the kind of anatomy that might get an artist a gig at a Kaldor Public Art Project.

Kelly, now in London, recalls that she and her colleagues were protesting at the preponderance of men exhibited in the new Kaldor Galleries at AGNSW. Of the 32 artists exhibiting, Kelly recalls, only one was a woman.

But the future will be different, says writer and curator Julie Ewington, whose work extends over four decades. Ewington was part of the curatorium for Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism, at ACCA in late 2017. 

Ewington is convinced the Kaldor Public Art Projects will change – not because of quotas or protocols – but because society has changed. She believes John Kaldor, now 83, whose energy and philanthropy leads the projects, is a man of his generation.

“He responds to artists who engage him and as it happens, they have been predominantly men. He follows his desires and wishes and that’s the way it pans out. One might say that John’s being drawn to male artists is a function of his generation and his preconceptions.”

“Do I wish that he had taken more interest in leading women artists in the past? Indeed I do. Do I hope that he will pick up work by more wonderful women? Yes please.”

Ewington, 2019

An analysis of the projects over 50 years is a sharp reminder of gender inequality in these particular arts.

Of 35 projects, 25 were solo male shows – over 71 per cent, compared to just under six per cent of solo women; and 11 per cent in shows with equal billing for men and women.

The remaining four projects have more than two artists. They include An Australian Accent in 1984, again showing only men: Mike Parr, Imants Tillers and Ken Unsworth. 

More recently, the 2019 Asad Raza show, where Raza had top billing, had a number of named collaborators: four men (including Daniel Boyd, already a successful solo artist with a string of commercial and critical successes to his name) and five women, including the acclaimed Agatha Gothe-Snape. Raza still had sole billing as the lead artist.

Equality of gender representation soared during 2013’s 13 Rooms, which was a critical and popular success with queues going out the door. It signalled a shift by Kaldor curators with just over 30 per cent of the rooms occupied by either a solo woman, or the Australian performance artists Clark Beaumont, both women. Again Jennifer Allora worked with Guillermo Calzadilla in a room where both artists had equal billing. 13 Rooms was also Marina Abramovic’s first outing with KPAP, a forerunner to her solo project in 2015.

13 Rooms was one of the stronger exhibitions for Kaldor Public Art Projects, recalls University of Sydney academic Catriona Moore, and she says public scrutiny of such work will increase as private patronage plays an increasingly important part in the arts.

“There has been a historical problem with gender balance and more recently there has been an attempt to rectify that, partly through the arts community with protests such as Deborah Kelly’s,” she says.

Jo Holder, co-convenor of research centre Contemporary Art and Feminism, and director of The Cross Art Projects, is unconvinced that there is real structural change at KPAP.

“Every time a woman appears, she’s got no clothes on and she’d down on her hands and knees,”

Holder, 2019

says Holder, referring to the work of Xavier Le Roy. She believes that these kinds of works repress the presence of the outside world.

But this year’s project, the 35th, goes beyond the promise of 13 Rooms. The four new commissions in Making Art Public are 50/50 for the first time: Alicia Frankovich, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Ian Milliss and Imants Tillers. Associated with the Milliss work is the publication of Extra! Extra! in which this article appears.

And Agatha Gothe-Snape is optimistic about the future. She has embedded herself with KPAP for 18 months with the projects. She says that both curatorial and management are very aware of the bias. She has spoken to Kaldor himself a number of times about the problem of gender inequality among the projects.

She says it was also a concern for her as the time to make a decision about the commission approached.

“I am happy to be a woman working at this fold in KPAP and believing the future will be different,” says Gothe-Snape.

“It was very much that if I didn’t do it, it would be one less woman. I’m so proud to be in this work that spreads some of John’s resources to women and non-binary people who have been employed as leaders, and to give as many people as possible a chance to benefit from these acts of philanthropy.”

Editor’s note:
Asad Rasa’s project Absorbtion (2019) at Carriageworks involved the following collaborating artists:

Daniel Boyd, Dean Cross, Brian Fuata, Khaled Sabsabi (4 x male); Chun Yin Rainbow Chan, Megan Alice Clune, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Jana Hawkins-Andersen, Ivey Wawn (5 x female). Ivey Wawn also collaborated and performed with composer Daniel Jenatsch (male) along with harpist Julie Lee, and dancers Taree Sainsbury and Eugene Choi (3 x female).

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