Elvis Richardson’s blog CoUNTess: Women count in the art-world has published data on gender representation in Australian contemporary visual arts since 2008. Its data-collecting activities provide hard evidence of the need for – and add substantial traction to – action by women artists working to bring gender equality to art education, art practice and contemporary art culture. It is frequently cited.

Responses to gender inequality in contemporary art have increased internationally over the past few years. They include influential New York critic Jerry Saltz’s ongoing commentary on gender statistics, The East London Fawcett Group’s Great East London Art Audit, a data collection project focusing on London contemporary art galleries in 2012, the 2014, Gallery Tally in which Los Angeles artist Micol Hebron asked artists to submit posters visualising the gender representation of commercial galleries then exhibited them online, and the continuing artistic activism of the US-based Guerrilla Girls and Pussy Galore. All these projects have used statistics about unequal gender representation to question how notions of quality and taste apply in determining artistic merit and success.

The Countess Report is a benchmarking project and online resource on gender equality in the Australian contemporary art sector. Put together by Elvis Richardson, it compiles and analyses data on education, prizes, funding, art media, organisational makeup, and exhibitions of various kinds across a wide range of galleries including national and State, regional, commercial, ARIs (Artist Run Galleries), and CAOs (Contemporary Art Spaces). The Countess Report is based on publically available data collected from websites, exhibition catalogues, magazines and media in the calendar year 2014, chosen because the data set is recent, complete and still readily available. Detailed findings now available in The Countess Report offer evidence not previously available and provide a test case sample for future benchmarking.

The project has been designed as a public resource in the form of a website where the base collated data is presented. The results of this data are also available in summary form in this report. The project raises questions rather than provides answers, although this report does contain preliminary findings and initial recommendations for future research and activities.

The Countess Report was conducted by Elvis Richardson, through the initiative and research funding of the Cruthers Art Foundation and assistance provided by NAVA, an Advisory Committee and other paid and unpaid assistants.

While previous Australian and overseas studies have dealt with collecting and commenting on data about gender representation in visual art, The Countess Report adds a significant and extensive new contribution by expanding the field to include data on visual art education, art prizes and art media as well as exhibitions. When compared with data collected by since 2008, this study shows some significant changes to gender representation in 2014, including a higher percentage than previously recorded of female artists exhibiting in some types of Australian galleries and exhibitions.

The Biennales, ARIs and Prize winners categories for 2014 all included more women than men, possibly reflecting structures in which decisions are made by several people of mixed genders rather than one individual. Whatever the reason, the result indicatesthat it is possible to achieve equal opportunity in practice and the question arises – with the percentage of women as high as 70% of the total pool of all artists at the point where they graduate from art schools, should 50/50 be the goal?

Commercial galleries showing 40% female artists and state museums showing 34% female artists in 2014 tell a different story – one where commerce, history and taste are more traditional and hierarchical. The closer an artist gets to money, prestige and power the more likely they are to be male. These results are not surprising as they mirror those in almost all other areas of creative production as well as in almost all spheres of power and influence.

This study reveals that a major influence on the perceived visibility and impact of female artists is their extremely low representation in art media – considerably lower than their actual presence in exhibitions and on gallery rosters. Only 34% of all articles and review of art magazines in our study featured women. A study of 2014 newspaper art reviews longer than 800 words revealed that the greater presence of women in exhibitions has gone largely ignored inthose publications.

the countess report: the pool of artists by Sadie Chandler