In early November, Emily Reynolds, co-director of San Francisco’s Bass & Reiner Gallery, started a Google spreadsheet. “I spent a few hours putting it together and then a few days hand-wringing,” she says. Then she posted it, without comment, on Facebook.
Why the worry? SF Gallery Tally 2017, as the spreadsheet is named, tracks the gender parity of representation and exhibition in Bay Area galleries. For some spaces, the numbers are far from equitable.
Gallery representation is an oft-coveted development in an artist’s career. With that formal agreement, a gallery becomes responsible for promoting, exhibiting and selling an artist’s work. Some galleries offer even more support to their roster: assistance with grant and residency applications, strategic placement in desirable collections, or — increasingly rare — subsidized studios.
Of the 42 gallery rosters currently in the spreadsheet, 15 are over 70 percent male, 16 are between 50 and 70 percent male, 2 are split 50-50 and only 9 galleries have a greater number of female, non-binary or gender non-conforming artists than their male counterparts.
Compare this to the numbers of MFA students graduating from Bay Area art programs: In the 2017 classes from CCA, SFAI, Stanford, UC Davis and UC Berkeley, 63 percent are women, non-binary or gender non-conforming and 38 percent are men.
“This is all information that’s readily available,” says Jackie Im, who added much of the data on the galleries’ 2017 exhibitions to the spreadsheet. “We’re just putting them in numbers.” Im is co-director of San Francisco spaces Et al. and Et al. etc., which have a roster — unchanged since the gallery started in 2013 — that tallies as 33 percent women, 67 percent men. But their exhibitions in the past year lean the opposite way: 68 percent women, 32 percent men.
Since she made the spreadsheet public, Reynolds has watched it take on a life of its own. Anyone with the link can update or add to the data contained within, such as adding a row that determines the totals for representation across all Bay Area galleries. Of the 1,109 artists represented by Bay Area galleries, 68 percent are men, 32 percent are women, non-binary or gender non-conforming. Comments in the exhibition tab add some nuance to the numbers (for Gallery 16: “The three women all appear in the same group show”).
Someone has yet to tackle the “2017 Museum / Non Profit Solo Shows” tab beyond a tally of SFMOMA’s exhibitions (of 14 solo shows, 64 percent went to male artists).
“It’s hard to overcome any implicit bias someone might have,” Im says, “but having a concrete method of seeing it might help.”
Both Reynolds and Im see SF Gallery Tally as a useful tool not just for self-reflective gallerists and curators, but for Bay Area audiences as a whole. “I feel like more transparency is really helpful,” Reynolds says, “both when you’re collecting data and when you’re an artist or a curator trying to figure out how this world operates.”
SF Gallery Tally comes at a time when conversations about gender and power in the art world shift from revelations and declarations to questions of “what now?” Among the many prominent men recently accused of sexual harassment is longtime Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, who resigned from his position on Oct. 25.
News of Landesman’s behavior, along with ongoing allegations across industry lines, prompted an open letter from a coalition called We Are Not Surprised; it circulated on Oct. 29 with nearly 9,500 signatures. “We are not surprised,” the letter opens, borrowing language from Jenny Holzer’s seminal statement in her 1978-87 piece Truisms. “The resignation of one publisher from one high-profile magazine does not solve the larger, more insidious problem: an art world that upholds inherited power structures at the cost of ethical behavior.”
For Reynolds, the SF Gallery Tally is an attempt to make those power structures visible. “It’s not a new or amazing idea,” she says, pointing to the Guerrilla Girls, artist Micol Hebron and the anonymous Los Angeles project Gallery Artist Reform as inspirations for the Bay Area spreadsheet.
Along with gallery rosters, Hebron tracks artists featured on the cover of Artforum. By her tally, 555 Arforum covers (June 1962 to October 2017) have featured 404 male artists, 102 female artists and 49 unidentified artists. That’s 72 percent men, and 18 percent women.
In an area that regards itself as progressive, some of the numbers seem woefully retrograde. Gagosian, which opened its San Francisco outpost at the beginning of 2017, represents 132 artists globally, but only 19 of those are women. Locally, Gagosian has yet to include a single non-male artist (female, non-binary or gender non-conforming) in any of its San Francisco exhibitions.
Gagosian San Francisco did not reply to several requests for comment, and the phone number listed for the gallery resulted in a disconnection message.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Oakland’s Interface Gallery, owned and directed by Suzanne L’Heureux, represents 11 artists (counting the individual members of two collaborative groups), eight of which are female.
“There’s just so many women artists making incredible work, it’s easy to show awesome women artists’ work without really thinking about gender,” L’Heureux says. “The thing I’m really thinking about more is other forms of diversity. The fact is I show a lot of white artists. I want to show more artists of color in the coming year.”
Making that conscious effort, L’Heureux says, can be a private reckoning with her own position of power in the art world. “I don’t want to tout diversity in a way that detracts from the artists themselves. I want to be doing it because I’m showing really kickass work. With a dynamic and interesting range of perspectives, there’s a richness in that for everyone involved.”
In some cases, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Of the galleries charted by SF Gallery Tally, San Francisco’s Casemore Kirkeby has one of the most male-heavy rosters: with seven artists, only one is female. But the year-and-a-half-old gallery, co-director Julie Casemore says, is actively developing that roster. “We’re still in the process of revealing who we are. I happened to have a number of established relationships with Stephen Wirtz Gallery artists,” Casemore says, explaining how Casemore Kirkeby launched with an existing roster.
“It takes an extended period of time to work with an artist to come to an agreement of representation. It’s a long and involved process. We have a very serious commitment to seeing diversity in our representation, and this statistic doesn’t represent the future of the gallery,” she says.
In that vein, Reynolds hopes SF Gallery Tally will continue — through the generosity of those willing to spend a few hours digging into press releases and artist bios — to track representation and exhibition numbers for years to come.
And as for the larger conversation about gender parity and structural inequalities, spaces can’t be the only aspect of the art world under scrutiny. “You could expand it to press coverage, fair participation and all that stuff,” Reynolds says. Another, more difficult direction: expand the spreadsheet to encompass not just gender, but race, economic background, age, ability and sexual orientation.
“One of the problems with just tracking galleries is that it puts the onus on galleries to have this diverse roster,” Reynolds says, “but that’s not the only power in the art world.”