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Why this campaign?
The seeds of this campaign were planted in 2016....
The Royal Academy put on an exhibition: Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse. You would have thought the RA would have found a good few paintings of gardens by women but in fact there was just one! There was also just one painting by a person of colour.
From that time we started to look into the facts around public art galleries. Who runs them, who funds them, who sits on their boards, what strategies and policies do they have for their collections? We asked Freedom of Information questions about their artworks and who created them, we looked at their special exhibitions, their acquisitions and bequests.
We didn't like what we found
We found that the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) directly funds The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, The Wallace Collection and all the Tate galleries, while other art galleries are funded indirectly via the Arts council. We found that while DCMS requires galleries to work towards diversity in staff and audiences, there is no such requirement for their collections. We also found that board members of our national gallery don't reply to members of the public on this subject, and that DCMS are unable or unwilling to provide any explanation as to why their diversity policies exclude curation, or any documentation as to how that decision was made. See our 'Interesting facts' below for more on the things we discovered.
On visiting galleries, we found that the walls are festooned with paintings of women with no or few clothes on, watched or surrounded by fully clothed men. We found that a painting of three naked women being judged as to how beautiful they were by clothed men was considered an appropriate image to be hung in a place that children regularly visit. We found that the National Gallery has no less than five versions of this story, two by the same artist.
You may have noticed yourself, when you go into one of our public galleries, that nearly all the paintings are by white men. Or you may be so used to that being the case that you have never really been conscious of it, never questioned it.
But you should notice, whether you are male or female, black or white, young or old, because it is important, and here's why.
Only exhibiting art by white men…
Deprives women, people of colour and all other underrepresented groups of the joyfully affirming experience of seeing themselves and their lives reflected in art.
Distorts the self-image of women and people of colour because of how they are depicted
Normalises sexual exploitation and violence against women because the art includes images of these crimes with neither commentary nor censure.
Discriminates against other artists.
Works against diversity of audiences by failing to provide art that speaks to everyone.
Communicates to potential new generations of women artists and artists of colour that they are unlikely to succeed or be of interest.
10 interesting facts
While government (DCMS) requires the galleries and museums it funds to work towards diversity in their staff, board members and audiences, there is no such requirement for curation. Increasing diversity of collections, therefore, is optional.
While 50% of Board members at the National Gallery are women, and 65% of staff, this appears to have had no impact on the the lamentable lack of art by women on its walls.
Out of a total of more than forty special exhibitions at the National Gallery in the last eight years, just three have contained paintings by women, and there has only ever been one solo exhibition by a woman, Artemisia in 2020.
The gallery made sixteen acquisitions of paintings in 2021, all of which were by men. Its programme of special exhibitions for 2022 contains not a single painting by a woman.
The National Gallery’s acquisition policy is one and a half pages long. Although they spend millions of tax-payers’ money each year, the criteria for purchasing pieces of art, and for accepting bequests in lieu of inheritance tax, are unspecified.
There is no requirement for any of our galleries to review appropriateness or sensitivity of art on their walls.
The total collection at the Tate, which has a diversity policy for curation, comprises only 6% of paintings by women. (30% at Tate Modern)
The National Portrait Gallery also aims to increase diversity in its collection, both in terms of artists and portraits, but the proportion of paintings by women is still only 7%.
None of our galleries keeps data on the ethnic origin of artists
The government has never reviewed its public art collections in terms of how they meet the needs of the population it serves.
THE MOST INTERESTING FACT OF ALL: there are no government plans to change any of this.
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