Cara Despain’s poster representing the percentage of female artists from the galleries tallied in both LA and NYC.
Artist Micol Hebron’s Gallery Tally is a crowdsourced, collaborative, and now global initiative to tally the gender makeup of art galleries worldwide. The project began as a hobby, with Hebron counting the number of men and women artists in the ads of Artforum magazine. Her interest was piqued, and she started tallying the rosters of Los Angeles galleries last year. As Hebron explains, “I was curious to double-check the assumption that a gender disparity exists in the art world, and I wanted to see if the numbers backed it up.” Turns out, they are worse than she expected.
When Hebron was invited to participate in an exhibition last October, she decided to use data visualization to create posters documenting the numbers and statistics she had been gathering. She designed a few herself, and then—invoking feminist, non-hierarchical ways of working—launched an open call on Facebook that yielded over one hundred more.
Since then, the project has expanded to cover New York, Miami, Berlin, and beyond. The text on one poster, related to Gagosian Gallery, struck me especially: “Women Are Better Directors, Men Are Better Artists.” This reflects a broader reality that women in administrative positions in the arts outnumber women artists—and with less pay or acknowledgment. The New York Times recently reported on the gender gap in America’s top museums, a quarter of which are run by women who earn about a third less than their male counterparts. While women have made strides at small and midsize organizations, the gap at the largest and most prominent institutions is even more glaring.
Gallery Tally is also addressing M.F.A. programs: Approximately 70 to 75 percent of M.F.A. students are female. Since men easily out-represent women in galleries (the overall average is about seventy to thirty, just 32.3% in New York and Los Angeles, as referenced in Cara Despain’s poster, above), this generation’s male M.F.A. graduates continue to have a much higher chance of finding gallery representation.
Hebron acknowledges that the gallery world, with white male artists as its norm, often mirrors the market, but the artist wonders if women could be complicit in perpetuating these patriarchal models. Hebron notes: “If there is 51 percent women in the population, why not in the gallery system? I would love to see things become more polymorphous.” She points out that a greater distribution of genders and ethnicities would lead to a wider variety of life experiences being represented, viewed, and collected—for better or for worse. As the artist puts it, “My experience of the world is affected by gender, and I don’t pretend to relate to all of the predominantly male work out there.”
Hebron hopes her project will get people thinking seriously about these issues. The fact that gallery representatives often “brag, apologize, or make excuses” when they cross paths with her these days shows that the art world is already listening.
An exhibition of the posters is on view at ForYourArt, March 29 to April 24.
For more information, visit gallerytally.tumblr.com.
Photos: Courtesy of Gallery Tally