We collected data on the gender of participants in the three international and national contemporary Biennale survey exhibitions held during 2014 – the 19th Biennale of Sydney, the 14th Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art and the Tarrawarra Biennale 2014. Biennales are held in public museums and galleries. They survey and select artists from national or international locations under a curatorial theme and produce essays and catalogues. To be curated into a Biennale is a career highlight for any artist, but typically artists receive unequally distributed funding which may not cover the cost of making the new work exhibited. It is at this intersection that relationships between museums, commercial galleries and collectors can provide the extra benefit of support for the represented artist both financially and in kind. The requirement in Biennales for “museum quality work” excludes artists without these resources and disguises this exclusion as artistic merit.
We noted in the one international biennale – BOS19 – where the catalogue states the artist’s date of birth, that 88% of the artists were under 40 years old. Further investigation showed most had commercial gallery representation and many had exhibited in other international biennales. This indicates that most Biennale artists are selected from a networked pool of those who are already deemed successful. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see that female artists were so well represented in this exhibition as they may form a vanguard.
Our data collection on Biennales found 42% female artists, 41% male artists and 17% collaborations. Women outnumbered men in all but the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art (41% female artists and 53% male artists). There were 2 female curators and 2 male curators.