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.)