New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World

Missing in Action: Women Artists and Biennials

Chin-tao Wu

Chin-tao Wu, Privatising Culture-Corporate Art Invervention since the 1980s, 2003, book cover.

“For years feminist artists have been sidelined, or even derided,” wrote the British journalist Viv Groskop, before adding: “but now, almost overnight, the art world can’t get enough of them.” Was this optimistic view of feminist / female artistic representation, formulated in 2007, underpinned by any quantifiable evidence, or was it just some ad hoc wishful thinking? Do woman artists appear in contemporary art exhibitions, then and now, in proportion to their presence in the art world in general? This paper will investigate statistically the gender distribution in six selected biennials over a significant period of time, i.e. the Gwangju Biennale, the Liverpool Biennial, the Istanbul Biennial, the Shanghai Biennale, the Taipei Biennial and Documenta. Although Documenta is not, strictly speaking, a biennial, its history of spanning the last six decades provides a unique perspective of comparison with other biennials generated over the last two decades. Whereas numbers in themselves do not, admittedly, always tell the full story, they do offer a more comprehensive picture of how women artists fare in contemporary art exhibitions such as biennials. The fact that in only three of the 58 large-scale biennials examined here do women artists reach a 50 percent representation with men must invite further reflection on the current conditions under which women artists can express themselves in international forums and are able to realize their full potential as professionals.