Monday, July 13, 2009

Most important artworks of the decade 90% male. Really?

With Jerry Saltz taking on gender disparity at the Museum of Modern Art and (as VoCA reports) the largest-ever exhibition of all-female artists just opened at the Centre Pompidou, it would seem to be a hopeful and progressive time for women in the art world.

Yet this sense of progress is nowhere to be seen in the Toronto Star's "top 10" for artworks of the past decade, which appeared in its Saturday edition.

As I already noted on Twitter, the list that Star critics Murray Whyte, Peter Goddard and Christopher Hume provide is 90% male.

Is this the early 2000s we're living in, or the early 1900s? Even the artists they namedrop as "almost" making it onto their list are male—the usual suspects of Currin, Murakami and Koons. The only lady to make it onto the list was part of a duo: Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.

So how would I change the list? Take off dubious picks like Marcel Dzama's Beck album cover, for one. I would also toss Rirkrit Tiravanija's walling-up of the OCAD gallery entrance two years ago—can't say that one really made a global impact. Even the inclusion of Damien Hirst's For the Love of God seems like an unwise pick, one more based in controversy than content. And I'll admit with some tentativeness that Peter Doig I'm a bit iffy on—call it my suspicion of all things Group of Seven-aura-related, or whatevs, but Doig, though incredibly talented, doesn't make my list for top 10 of the decade.

Much more cogent, I might posit, are Mona Hatoum's eerie sculptures or the racially pointed drawings of Laylah Ali. Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust Monument and Untitled Monument are key as well.

The list of possibilities, could, of course, go on. Pippilotti Rist's aggressively lush installations, Sam Taylor-Wood's photography, Elizabeth Peyton's emo-fashion paintings—all of these rival, to my mind, elements of the Star's top ten in terms of global influence. (I know others find Peyton too twee at times, but her influence and connection to the fashion world is undeniable.)

Also, on a broader scale, there are key works missing from non-Euro sources. What about El Anatsui's amazing found-object tapestries? Or Kehinde Wiley's awesome mashups of hip-hop and high-portraiture? Or, on a Canadian level, the reconstructive riffs of Rebecca Belmore and Kent Monkman?

The names I've listed are just a beginning, of course. Essentially, the list the Star presented seemed ill thought-through. But seeing as how it's going to be a lot of readers' main impressions of what's going on in the art world, that lack of thought quite perturbs me.

Am I off here? Who do you think should have been considered or included?

Lead image by Guerilla Girls from Factoria Lunar; next Mona Hatoum's Mobile Home; next Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust Monument; next a work by El Anatsui.


Hrag said...

To be fair Leah, we'd all disagree on what there is to pick. The key is that the Star asked all guys, they should've really taken diversity into account then. I think at least half of their choices are LAME!

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Hrag,

You're right -- the thought that we each have our own "Top 10s" occurred to me too. But yeah, the choices were just lame-o on a lot of levels -- particularly the diversity one for me.

Who would you have picked?

Anonymous said...

And the Janet Cardiff piece - sloppy reporting on Hume's part, as the piece is Cardiff's alone, even credited as such on their joint web site. They each have their own independent practice, as well as co-authored works.

Hrag said...

My list would include a lot of community events, like Paul Chan's Waiting for Godot production in New Orleans, though I think I'd include Amy Sillman. I really think she's revitalized a type of abstract painting that people have disregarded for far too long. Her work reminds me a little of David Urban's work from the Urban still showing nowadays?

Anonymous said...

I didn't agree with the Star article for the most part. It seemed more of a popularity contest then an "artworks of the decade" list.
And let's be honest - how many Canadian artists would actually make the Top Ten of the decade, be it male or female?

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Anonymouses and Hrag --

Thanks for your thoughts.

From your picks, Hrag, of course I'm reminded of the whole wider world out there beyond my own favourites! The Paul Chan makes me think twice for sure. Though this exercise was frustrating to read, it is kind of to think about and do, I guess.

Also I agree with you, Anonymous2, about the "Canadian artist" quotient. If we're being realistic with ourselves I think we have to admit that Canada doesn't make that much of an impact, globally speaking. Granted, we have produced some really great artists and galleries; it's just that there's so many more out there. And it's actually curious to me that well-known Canadians like Terence Koh and David Altmejd, however reviled by some, didn't make the list. Would they be better known globally?

I guess the difficulty with these articles is that they are always only "your own top ten." And then when you're in Canada they're "your own top ten with obligatory Canadian content shout outs."

There's no beating down all those geographical, cultural and just plain-ol-fashioned "I likes what I likes" differences.

But it sure is fun to still argue about them!

Anonymous1, interesting point, I hadn't considered that about 40-part Motet. Good catch.

Hrag said...

Did I ever mention that Terence still owes me $20 from 1999. He stopped talking to me after I asked for my money back.

Angela, Brayham Contemporary Art said...

Yes, we would all have somewhat differing versions of our Top Ten. When I think back to some of the exhibitions, individual works of art or artists that have stood out for me, like you Leah, Mona Hatoum would certainly make my list. While it was just over ten years ago, the survey exhibit at the New Museum, NY was breathtaking. Working in a similar political / personal vein, but creating a completely different body of work is Shirin Neshat. I still remember the first time I became aware of her work at the Whitney Biennial and was privileged to hear her speak earlier this year at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Hrag --

Hm, that's a most unclassy move on Terence's part! Like he doesn't have the cash....

Angela, thanks for mentioning Shirin Neshat -- there were many other names my brain wouldn't cough up when I was hammering this out and that was most certainly one of them! You are so right. I'm really sad I missed her Perimeter Insitute talk. Did you do a report on your blog?

Angela - Brayham Contemporary Art said...

Leah -

Shirin Neshat's talk was pre-blogging for me, however, I did provide a brief comment on Andrea Carson's post on her blog View on Canadian Art "The Rise of Cambridge, Waterloo: Shirin Neshat"

Leah Sandals said...

Just looked at your comment, Angela... man, sorry I missed that talk!

Murray Whyte said...

Hiya --

Murray Whyte here, happy to take some lumps. I shivered when asked to do this -- particularly the criteria of being "known quantities" (as in, the powers wanted a deliberate shying away from stuff mainstream-y, non-art folks might never have heard of), and as I said, it's an impossible task -- especially when you consider it was supposed to be WORKS, not artists. Of the whole freakin' decade.

But Dzama -- well, I figured someone had to rep the drawing resurgence, and Marcel's (arguably) the best ambassador for that. But pick a single drawing. Go on, I dare you. I (just barely non-arbitrarily) chose Guero, based on the criteria we were given: Even folks who didn't know Marcel had likely at least seen the record.

As for the rest ... well, like I said, it was really for the sake of argument. And FWIW, I had Neshat, Whiteread and Ali on my own personal list ...

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Murray --

Thanks for chiming in...

I know lists like this are hard to do -- especially collaboratively, 3.3 picks each or whatever. Ends up being a dog's breakfast no matter which way you slice it.

Still, I think it was pretty surprising to see this overall selection, especially from the Star, which is generally pretty conscious about equity issues.

Also good to know you were down for Shirin Neshat!

I think most of us are willing to acknowledge, as some other commenters have indicated, that everyone would have different picks for this "top 10". But it really could have been a *lot* better in a *lot* of ways--gender openness being the big one for me, other for other people.

What it really made me think about overall was how personal experience plays into lists like this--both experience of seeing art (ours is mainly limited to TO and Canada) and the ways we relate to it, which is often through one's own experience.

Anyway, lots to say and think about!