It’s A Man’s World

NG Art Gallery, Sydney


It’s a Man’s World

My last show The Perfect Woman dealt with observations on womens’ identity, gender inequality and self-esteem. This process lead me towards the parallel world of male identity, male preoccupations and the seeming obsessions of this alternate universe.  While this uncovering was taking place I reflected on the English art critic Brian Sewell’s statement (Sunday Independent, 6th July 2008) that only men were capable of aesthetic greatness and that there had never been a first ranked woman artist.  Sewell believed that the art market is not sexist.  ‘The likes of Bridge Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the 2nd and 3rd rank.”

Art should not be a numbers game where women compete with men for ‘rank’ or to be the ‘greatest’.  What is there to gain from comparing one artist with another, with whether male or female?  I saw Sewell’s beliefs as perhaps characteristic of a male ego that saw celebrity and market success as the sole arbiters of quality.  But doesn’t a work of art have it’s own voice, with it’s own meanings and intentions?  My mind played with the great/interesting women artists I could immediately name to refute his comment – ‘Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Cindy Sherman, Elisabeth Cummings, Emily Kngwarreye and Marina Abramovic; and further back to Clarice Beckett, Margaret Preston, Vanessa Bell, and Barbara Hepworth, just to name a few.

Sewell noted that maybe child-bearing was a factor but it seemed to me that there were other social forces at work. Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and bicycle wheel had changed the way we look at art but imagine for a moment if the same response would have greeted a woman who placed a toilet in an art gallery.  Perhaps she would have been considered unhinged.  Art reflects society and women are not give the same latitude as men in any arena of power, be it politics or painting.

Other commentators have lamented the fact that there are very few women in the top 50 artists at auction and that even so called 2nd rate male artists achieve better figures than artists like Louise Bourgeois.  But who is disappointed – the women or their dealers? Bourgeois’ dealer claims that women ‘are the bargain in today’s market’ but such statements only pander to the notion that art must be calibrated on a financial scale, linking it to the aggressive, competitive, macho world of the stock market.  Financial inequities like these mirror inequality in business, religion, politics, the military, music, and sport.

These reflections were a stepping off point for this body of work.  It is not about judging men but rather reflecting what I see.  For me, it’s about the world we all occupy.

Susan O’Doherty    2011