The Big Salchicha: Our male-dominated art industry.


Wieners, everywhere. (Photo by paladinsf.)

There’s been some online kerfuffling on the interwebz about the stunning lack of ladies present in Modern Art Notes March Madness-style tournament, in which he’s asking readers to vote on the “greatest work of art since World War II.” The list, which was developed by a guest panel of five curators, features a total of 64 works of art. Of these, a sum total of three are crafted by women (Cindy Sherman, Maya Lin and Marina Abramovic). Two are by artists who are non-white (Kerry James Marshall and Lin, who is in for a two-fer). Almost all of the artists represented are from the U.S. or Western Europe. Andy Warhol makes the list five times. Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns are each represented by four works. And Gerhard Richter is in for three.

I’d never be the sort to oppose a good gimmick to goose web traffic, but it did rankle me to see this list. For one, it seems to tell a very narrow of art history.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, provided the labels are cleared up: In which case, we could re-baptize the tournament “The Best Art Work Created by a Dude Living in in London, New York or Berlin Sometime Between 1945 and 1960.” (But I suppose that doesn’t have that same ring to it.) Two, I was disappointed to see that a blogger who has taken arts institutions to task for being less than diverse, would publish a list that appeared to be the exact opposite. Three, I had to wonder if the world really needs that many Jasper Johns flags. I mean, really.

Green has defended his decisions on Twitter, stating that he wasn’t going to tell his invited curators which names to submit and that the list represents the “most-settled” artists in the 1945-60 canon. (Again, here.) To Green’s first point: I’d argue that the story a writer tells is colored by the sources he or she chooses to consult. Perhaps a more diverse group of experts would have yielded a more diverse result. To the second, I’d say: if the time-frame here is “since World War II” as originally stated (instead of 1945-60 as later implied on Twitter), then the canon ain’t even close to being settled.

Now, why could any of this possibly matter? After all, it’s just a silly game. Well, I think it matters a lot. For one, Green’s blog is an important outlet for coverage about arts institutions. This tournament will get linked to, it’ll get Facebook liked and it’ll turn up in Google searches when some student somewhere does a search for “greatest works of art since World War II.” Some little newspaper or arts journal might even run an item about it. In other words, it will become part of the record — a record for a system that already excels at excluding women and minorities from the larger narrative about art. (Something I’ve written about.) Which is why this is all such a bummer: an opportunity to provide a more comprehensive view of art, in a fun and interactive way, ends up being just the same old story.

For more: Brian Dupont has a blog post deconstructing the list. And Two Coats of Paint has a one- and two-part post that features various folks (Dupont, Jennifer Dalton, Michelle Vaughan, Hilary Robinson and many others) making some fantastic suggestions. You’ll find my list after the jump. (Although consider it more of a riff than a definitive list because it’s late and I’m TIRED.)

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970
Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973
Pollock, One, 1950
Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950
Jasper Johns, Flag, 1954-55
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Portrait of Ross, 1991
Gary Panter, Jimbo in Purgatory, 2004
Asco, Spraypaint LACMA, 1972
Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting, 1974
Gego, Reticularea, 1969
Dondi, Children of the Grave 3, 1980
Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955,
Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953
ESPO, aka Steve Powers, the buff tags series from L.A., 2002 (not sure if these have an official name)
Ed Ruscha, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
John Baldessari, I Am Making Art, 1971
Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993
Cindy Sherman, Film Stills 1977-80
Julian Schnabel, Just Kidding, Wanted to Make Sure You Were Paying Attention
Yoko Ono, Cut 1964
Nam June Paik, TV Buddha, 1974
Carolee Schneeman, Interior Scroll, 1975
Eva Hesse, Sans II, 1968
Grace Hartigan, Shinnecock Canal 1957
Ana Mendieta, Silueta Series 1973-80
Alice Neel, Self-Portrait, 1980
Kara Walker, My complement, my enemy 2007
Maya Lin, Vietnam War Memorial, 1982
Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, 1957
Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds, 2002-05
Diane Arbus, American Rites, Manners and Customs 1963-7
Robert Frank, The Americans, 1955-59
Glenn Ligon, Runaways Series, 1993
Chris Burden, Shoot, 1971
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962
AA Bronson, Felix, June 5, 1994 (1994/99)
Francis Bacon, Study After Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953
Nan Goldin, Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984
Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit, 1970
Cornbread, “Cornbread Lives” tagged on an elephant, sometime in the early ’70s
John Valadez, Car Show, 2001

13 comments

  1. Tyler Green

    To flush out the point you half-allowed me to make: It should be unsurprising that the years that fill the survey are 1945-65ish, from which 39 of the 64 works come: That’s when the ‘what’s the greatest’ post-war canon is most settled. (Not completely settled, most settled.) Given that’s the way the selectors went, which seems reasonable as it was a period of remarkable innovation in art, I’m not too surprised that men dominate that period and thus the seeding. Nor should anyone else. Pollock was good? Shocker. Robert Rauschenberg innovated like mad? Who knew. Blaming the editor for the sins, situations and norms of past eras is cheap and easy. (That said, my simple, straightforward seeding system is open to criticism, but charges of sexism or personal bias are poorly considered.)

    Naturally a process that focused on the post-Warhol era would have a very, very different line-up. I noticed that the lists on Two Coats do this: They substantially ignore the first 20 years of the rubric.

    Finally, on the Johns flags, sure there are too many for my taste too. But they are discrete works that say different things — and maybe so many of them being there might be an opportunity for people to think about such.

  2. c-monster

    @tyler — there is no discussion of post-war canon in your original post, nor is there any acknowledgment that this might focus on a 20 year period. the original post refers to greatest works “since” WWII. in fact, the list contains works from as late as 2003 on the list. if the focus was intended to be ’45-65 i think you should have made it clear in your post.

  3. Yvonne Connasse

    Well…I was all set to click onto Mr. Green’s original article to peruse the list for myself, but I must say, after reading his four-year old temper tantrum in the comments…I’ll stick with your list, C-Mon.

  4. Tyler Green

    I do not intend to suggest that any such focus was required or specified. I was merely pointing out that when someone asks selectors for the 32 greatest works from 1945-2011, selectors are going to make heavy use of the most settled part of the canon, which is, naturally, the oldest part, 1945-65.

  5. Quasimodo

    He’s such a pill. Why do you even pander to his ego by calling him an “important outlet”? So’s the sewer.

  6. c-monster

    hey y’all. let’s it keep it nice. i’d like to think we can criticize ideas on this blog without resorting to name-calling. thanks, c.

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  8. mattf

    A crucial aspect of the NCAA basketball tournament selection process that most, if not all, of the many “bracket lists” that spring up each March omit is the inclusion of conference champions. The slate of teams (sorry, schools…) includes 30 conference champions and 37 (or whatever number it is now to include the “play-in” games) at-large invitations or bids. This results in automatic tournament entries for a wide range of smaller schools, like Long Island University, that otherwise wouldn’t make the tournament if it was based on a list of the top 64 teams in the nation.
    With that in mind, it might be interesting to construct a list of 30 major postwar visual art movements (itself a contentious process, somewhat akin to the constant expansion and contraction of NCAA athletic conferences), select a canonical work from each, then select x amount of others as the “at large bids.”

  9. Paddy Johnson

    “I was merely pointing out that when someone asks selectors for the 32 greatest works from 1945-2011, selectors are going to make heavy use of the most settled part of the canon, which is, naturally, the oldest part, 1945-65.”

    This goes back to Carolina’s original point that different selectors would make different choices. I cover emerging art – what are the chances the bulk of my choices are going to come from 1945-65 when my interest is much later? I don’t think we can assume its natural that *everyone* is going to gravitate towards the oldest part of the canon.

    I agree that there’s some credence to the argument that people naturally gravitate to the older part of the canon but this indicates a failure of the bracket. It’s much too large. What good is a tourney to determine the best work of art, if the ground isn’t level to begin with. (Yes I know this is just a game, but the fewer ruptures in its truth seeking facade the more fun there is to be had).

  10. GILLIAN MCIVER

    WHAT I find interesting about both lists is that the US artists of any note all date from the 80s backwards in time. This reflects the fact that the US has NOT been producing – or should i say, not nurturing – great and important artists that are making their mark on the world scene. here in the UK we have a lot of big shows but very rarely any new-ish US artists. Saatchi did do a show of US painting but his tastes are idiosyncratic and not worth judging current US practices by.
    I find it strange and somehow unsettling that I have so rarely seen any show by a recent/emergent US artist here in Europe. I might like to curate such a show, but the UK’s draconian visa regime means I just can’t afford to invite anyone here to my small space.
    My question is, is the relative invisibility of American visual arts in the world art scene an indication of, or a symbiotic corres;pondent of, the decline in American importance on the world political stage?

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