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For artist Micol Hebron, her latest project began by reading Artforum. In browsing the glossy pages of the magazine, she kept getting the feeling that male artists were disproportionately represented in the magazine's advertising. "People assumed that there was an inequity there, but no one had any data," she recalls. "So every time I got the physical magazine, I would count the ads -- the full-page ads for single artists -- since that tells you who the galleries are putting their weight behind." Month after month, she says, the count was roughly the same, "Usually, about 70 percent men." Though, sometimes it was worse. "There was one issue, recently, it was something like 82 percent male."
Late last year, after being invited to participate in an exhibition at West L.A. College, she decided to turn her informal tallies into a collaborative art project. Hebron put out a call to other artists to help her illustrate the male-to-female ratios at commercial galleries. "In five days, we had 50 artists," says Hebron. "By the end of two weeks, there were 100 people." The group tallied gallery gender ratios in L.A., then moved on to New York. Altogether, the statistics mirrored those of Hebron's Artforum counts: almost 70 percent of artists represented by commercial galleries in New York and L.A. were men. That means that male contemporary artists are more than twice as likely to enjoy commercial representation -- and the economic benefits that come with it -- than their female peers.
Hebron lives in Eagle Rock and teaches at Chapman University. Originally from Northern California, she came to L.A. to study at UCLA and has been here ever since. A long-time multimedia artist, her work has previously touched on issues of gender and the representation of women in art. (She once made a video of herself parodying the famous Hans Namuth film of Jackson Pollock -- a jab at the macho affectations of a turnkey American artist.) Hebron says that when she began the tally, the numbers had left her feeling disillusioned. "It made me realize how different things might be if I was a man," she says. "I think my role in the art world would be very different, my sense of optimism and my sense of opportunity would be so different. Everyone loses out when there's this type of occlusion. If I go through the gallery world and all I hear is this white male heteronormative experience, it means that there are all these other voices I don't get to hear."
But rather than dwell on the inequity, Hebron and her collaborators turned it into art -- in most cases, a poster, though there is painting, quilting and assemblage as well. Culver City's powerful Blum & Poe gallery (89 percent male) was represented by a humorous graphite drawing by Denise Johnson of pop singer Miley Cyrus grinding against crooner Robin Thicke. Cherry and Martin (80 percent male), also in Culver City, gets a tidy blue-and-pink graphic treatment by Dan Levenson, in which the blue overwhelms the pink. And an ominous, layered stencil of a female silhouette gives the stats on Mihai Nicodim, another local space, which has a roster that is 100 percent male. On the piece, artist Kelly Thompson has written, "Zip None Nada." It is not the only L.A. gallery with that stat: Maxwell Anderson also has a roster that is 100 percent male.
The posters dedicated to the L.A. galleries went on view at West L.A. College Gallery last fall. Now Hebron is bringing the two U.S. coasts together in a new exhibition at ForYourArt in Los Angeles. "(en)Gendered (in)Equity: The Gallery Tally Poster Project" brings together more than 260 posters tracking the gallery world's male-female imbalance. And the New York-related works have been just as creative as the ones for L.A., such as a gender-bendy collage by Austin Young that highlights the fact that only 27 percent of the Andrea Rosen gallery's artists are women. There is also a diagrammatic piece by Ken Ehrlich shows the imbalance at the blue-chip David Zwirner, which is 70 percent male. (The show is up at ForYourArt through April 29, but you can see the posters anytime on the project's Tumblr page.)
This collaboration comes at a time when other artists are also employing the technique of charting real data in their work. In her 2002 installation "What Does An Artist Look Like?," Brooklyn artist Jennifer Dalton cataloged the ways in which female cultural figures are sexualized when depicted in the pages of The New Yorker Magazine. In 2011, she followed up with an installation that revealed the paucity of women as guests on "The Daily Show." Likewise, artist William Powhida has diagrammed the connections between the art world and the architects of the financial collapse. This follows on the heels of work by figures such as Mark Lombardi (who passed away in 2000), known for making elaborate flowcharts that detailed the links between the world of finance and terrorism. In addition, there are the Guerilla Girls, a collective of artists that has drawn attention to the paucity of women artists shown in major museums since the mid-1980s.
Hebron says that the process of making art out of this disconcerting data has been constructive, much more so than giving a lecture or setting up some online petition would have been. Not only does the art in the Gallery Tally project shine a light on a significant problem, she explains, it provides a platform for artists who otherwise simply wouldn't get heard. "This is not an angry punishment or some sort of retaliation," she explains. And it has helped artists -- women and men -- make connections. "The project is getting artists to collaborate who have never met before," she says. "There might be four artists from the Inland Empire who will bring in four other artists from the Inland Empire and maybe they didn't all know each other before."
The gallery tally has now attracted collaboration at an international level. "We now have artists from New Zealand, Portugal, London, Berlin, Slovenia, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and Chile," she says. And many of them are starting to tally the galleries in their own communities and create work related to that. Right now, Hebron is in negotiations to show the project on the East Coast, at spaces in New York and Miami. She is also doing some early footwork for a show in Europe. "I really wasn't planning for this to be such a big project," she says. "It just sort of created itself."
In recent weeks, Hebron and her collaborators have started to email galleries about their stats. A few have responded; most have not. (Those that have, she says, prefer to remain anonymous. Some have actually changed their rosters since the stats were evaluated, which means that some of the statistics cited here may have changed since the original research was done.) Hebron says that when she was in Miami last December for the art fairs, she spoke to about 200 galleries about the issue in person. "The responses were really interesting," she recalls. "Most of the time they claimed they didn't know what their gender ratio was. Or they would say things like, 'We have mostly men, but our most important artist is a female.' Someone else told me that they didn't want to add women artists just to fill a quota." The most creative response, she says, came from a Swiss gallery: "They said to me, 'We don't have very many women, but we have a gay artist. Does that count?' I couldn't believe it."
Certainly, not every gallery has this sort of imbalance -- such as Jancar, in L.A.'s Chinatown, which represents Hebron. (The gallery's roster is 70 percent female.) "And some of the higher-end galleries do have a roughly 50-50 split," says Hebron, such as the prestigious Susanne Vielmetter Projects in Culver City, which represents 55 percent women.
What's been most rewarding for Hebron has been seeing the gusto with which her collaborators have pitched in. "It's a really creative, positive response to a complicated and negative situation," she says. "You look at this show and you see 260 different artist perspectives. Everyone is expressing themselves on this issue in their own voice." It has also provided women artists with an interesting space in which to dialogue and show their work. Of the more than 600 contributors that the project has now attracted, an estimated 70 percent are female. For any galleries looking for a few good women, Hebron's project might be a good place to start.