After over a year of research, presentations, round-table discussions, studio visits and meetings with sculptors, curators, institutions, gallery owners and self-organized collectives in the Nordic region as well as in New York, we have now evaluated our findings and what we believe is the best way to move forward.
Our Process and Activities
The project started as a research into the uneven gender representation within the sculpture field in the Nordic region titled “Underrepresented: Women Sculptors – A post-feminism perspective”. With the goal of the project being creating a dialog focusing on the underrepresentation of women sculptors in public and private institutions, exhibition venues, galleries and biennales in the Nordic region it soon became clear that it needed a forum. SculptureHUB was created. As a network site and blog where we could present our ideas, advertise open-calls, invitations to meetings and presentations as well a place for women sculptors to connect. The project originated in my own experiences as a woman sculptor, seeing the unusual uneven gender representation within the field, not only in the UK and USA but in Göteborg and Stockholm, Sweden. I wanted to find out if women sculptors in the neighboring Nordic countries had similar experiences and perspectives on the situation. I invited curator Sofia Landström who focuses on feminist methodology and alternative exhibition making and whom I have worked with before, to join the project.
Through a series of talks, presentations and network events we set out to collect as much information as possible from artists that self identified themselves as women sculptors ( we naturally also welcomed artists of all gender and artistic practices to our events) and were based in the Nordic region regardless of origin. The first presentation was held in collaboration with Galleri BOX in Göteborg, Sweden. It was both a launch of sculptureHUB and a discussion with British sculptor Rose Gibbs who had participated in the much talked about all-women sculpture exhibition at Pangolin Gallery in London. During this first presentation and the discussion that followed it became clear that a standard public presentation of sculptureHUB followed by a standard Q&A was not considered the best option. We listened and decided that we would change the format for the upcoming presentations to be more informal and for the rest of the project we called the presentations “Network meetings” where we only shortly presented the background and sculptureHUB, gave each city some examples of their % male/female artist currently on show to move on with an informal round-table discussion. After all we were interested in hearing what the audience had to say on the subject and give them a chance to meet each other. The first presentation also made it clear that there was an interest in discussing sculpture in a broader field but with a focus on subjects, concepts and ideas that felt more urgent to women sculptors than stone carvings of male heroes. The idea of having a parallel artist talk series with this focus was born.
Re-caps of all the talks can be found here on our blog. The talks were; Social Sculpture: Bait al Karama & Slow Food in Palestine with Beatrice Catanzaro and Cristiana Bottigella, Drawing on Sculpture: Graphic Interventions on the Photographic Surface with Jon Wood from the Henry Moore Foundation in Leeds, RE/FORMATIONS: Disability, Women, and Sculpture with Dr. Ann Fox and Jessica Cooley, The Expanding Field & The Collective as Strategy with Sisters of Jam and Carolina Pahlén.
The second sculptureHUB network meeting was held in Helsinki in collaboration with HIAP, the 3rd in collaboration with artist-run Tenthaus Oslo in Norway, the 4th one in Copenhagen at NLHSpace. After each meeting we would consult our notes, discuss and write a summary re-cap of the subjects that had been had talked about, ideas and suggestions put forth. The summary was posted here on our blog and website.
While in Helsinki, Oslo and Copenhagen we also made studio visits with artists that had not been able to make it to the event but had interest in the subject, we also visited numerous exhibition venues and tried to meet with as many other arts professionals with an opinion in the subject. Especially Tenthaus Oslo made an incredible effort creating a day long portfolio viewing day where Marianne Hultman, the artistic director of Olso Kunstförening/Oslo Fine Art Society in Norway also joined in.
In March part of the week-long International Women’s day celebration at a-venue! Academy Valand, University of Gothenburg we were invited to talk about sculptureHUB and our research. We have also had several requests for sharing our findings but have this far held of until we have had time to compile it into writing and also had discussed how best to move forward.
In April we went to NYC to discuss sculptureHUB, all-women shows and the possibilities and interest in staging an exhibition with women sculptors from the Nordic region in New York. We met with The Guerrilla Girls, Art 21, Artist/Gallerist Jen Dalton, A.I.R Gallery, ICI - Independent Curators International, VOCA – Voices in Contemporary Art, Curator Amanda Parmer, ISCP Studio space and curator Saisha Grayson. Everyone we met were extremely generous sharing experiences and giving us suggestions and advise.
In addition we also visited numerous of galleries and exhibition venues.
Results, Experiences and Moving Forward
Through sculptureHUB we got a first hand insight in how women sculptors perceive their current situation in the Nordic art world today. It soon became clear that the situation is much more complex than the obvious number crunching of male v.s female artists shown and represented in galleries, institutions and public commissions ( in the Nordic cities it is still only about 35% female and 65% male with some variations Surprisingly women artists still felt that if they brought up feelings or even hard facts of being overlooked because of their gender, they would be stamped as troublemakers or simply being jealous. Our network events proved to be much needed by providing a “safe” anonymous forum for women sculptors to voice their frustration and exchange strategies but also to network. Interesting enough the meetings that first started out discussing the inequalities and sharing experiences eventually moved into discussions of the sculpture field in general; what it meant to be a sculptor today, public commissions, sculpture v.s installation etc. And the brainstorming while discussing different strategies for changing the gender status qvo was very rewarding.
The initial long term goal of the project was to arrange a group exhibition with Nordic women sculptors outside the Nordic region. But as the project progressed it became clear that the real inequality was actually in the lack of solo opportunities for women sculptors. Venues often had no issue with staging all women group shows or even including a majority of women artists in group exhibitions but when it came to giving women artists solo exhibitions it was a completely different story. The importance of solo exhibitions for an artist career can not be overstated. But for being a signifier of professional achievement, solo exhibitions also provides important visibility and publicity that in turn promotes future opportunities. An example of just how significant solo shows are for the value of artists work is the now common practice by commercial galleries to stage several exhibitions by different artists in the same gallery at the same time but promoting them as “solo” exhibitions. For the artist working towards or planning for a real solo exhibition it is often a extremely rewarding process, an opportunity to see ones body of work over several years interact and interrelate with each other or being able to completely take over a venue for one large piece. While the group exhibitions often help exhibition venues improve the gender statistics (especially if hosting graduation shows from art schools since there is a majority of women art students) they do not seem to be as valuable for women artists nor their careers.
Since the long term plan was to stage an all-women group show, we asked all artists we met with in group discussions, portfolio days or in studio visits if they thought an all-women exhibition was a good strategy for making women sculptors more visible and secondly if they themselves would want to participate in such an exhibition?
The discussions we had in all Nordic countries as well as in New York City, surrounding all-women shows where always vivid, engaging and extremely opinionated. It often started out by being suggested that all-women shows were purely a ghettoization of women artists, a media stunt for exhibition venues and no matter what the curatorial statement said in regards to the selection of the artists, the discussions by media and critics seemed to always be reduced to only discuss the fact that it was exhibitions with only women. The majority of opinion was that an all-women show was a bad idea. But as the discussions evolved there were examples of some instances where all-women shows might be a good idea e.g if the curatorial concept dealt directly with issues specific for women's life such as feminism. Moving along, it became evident that the resistance to all-women shows where not as fixed as initially suggested and if certain criteria could be fulfilled might not be a bad idea. The criteria was; that the concept tying the selected artists together had to be more than just their gender, the quality of the selection of artists, the reputation of the exhibition venue and the size of the artist fee. It seemed that if the exhibition was in an extremely high status venue and that there were really large artists fees and a solid concept that tied the sculptors together but for their gender, that this might be enough to avoid having the exhibition be promoted and discussed only by the fact it lacked male artists. Putting forth this scenario to artists that initially stated they would never be part of an all-women show indeed made them reconsider their stance.
But finally, considering our findings and experiences during this project it is clear that to provide real visibility and lasting value for women sculptors we should work towards convincing a well established exhibition venue to agree to dedicate one full exhibition year to stage 7 solo shows by women sculptors. SculptureCenter in Long Island City is a forerunner in the field with all of their solo exhibitions during 2016 being dedicated to women artists.
Let´s see if we can get a Nordic venue to agree to do the same!
We would like to express our gratitude to everyone that has met with us and so generously shared their work, ideas and reflections upon the subject. We would also like to thank the organisations that generously have collaborated with us; HIAP- Helsinki, Tenthaus Oslo, NLHSpace Copenhagen and Gallery Box, Göteborg., Göteborgs Konsthall, Akademi Valand and Röda Sten Art Center.
And we are grateful for the financial support from our main funder the Nordic Culture Point and Göteborg Stads Kultur for their support in the Sculpture Talk series, Längmanska Art Foundation, SWEA North Carolina, IASPIS and Helge:AX Johnsson Foundation. Thank you!