Last month Performa, the performance art nonprofit founded by art historian RoseLee Goldberg, announced five new commissions for its upcoming biennial. Marking its 10th anniversary, Performa 15 would feature commissions by artists Robin Rhode, Pauline Curnier Jardin, Jérôme Bel, Jesper Just, and Francesco Vezzoli in collaboration with dancer David Hallberg, the press release said. Today, the organization sent out another press release announcing three more commissions for this year, by Edgar Arceneaux, Wyatt Kahn, and Oscar Murillo. That makes a total of eight commissions and nine names — and among them, only a single woman.
But! — you say, since perhaps you too received the press release — today they also announced three Performa premieres, and those are all works by women: Ulla von Brandenburg, Erika Vogt, and Heather Phillipson. This is true, but let’s not pretend premieres are the same as commissions. Premiering a work means offering a preexisting piece a chance to debut somewhere new; commissioning one means supplying financial and artistic support for its creation — it’s an investment not just in the piece itself but in the maker. In a climate where getting paid for one’s artwork is a constant struggle, this distinction matters. (And it’s one I confirmed with the press representative who distributed today’s release.)
As for whether these are all the commissions for this year, the same representative said this is the whole group for now, although the lineup is still subject to change.
I don’t honestly know what to do with the fact that it is 2015 and Performa can seemingly only find one woman whose work it considers worthy of full-fledged support. (The last biennial’s commission count, according to the website, was 8 men, 4 women, and 1 mixed-gender group.) I understand that there are more ways to be diverse than gender, and I understand that there are more ways to advance feminism than counting and public shaming. But with sexism so alive and kicking, sometimes I see no other choice.
Update, 8:05pm EST: RoseLee Goldberg, founder and curator of Performa, sent this statement in response to the post:
Over the years Performa has always strived for a balanced approach to the biennial and while it sometimes has been more balanced in certain years than others, that has always been the intent. Performa has a strong history of diversity and has very actively supported and cultivated the careers of women artists, including, to name a few of many, Jennifer Rubell, Frances Stark, Mika Rottenberg, Rachel Feinstein, Liz Magic Laser, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, Kelly Nipper, Cally Spooner, Joan Jonas, Yvonne Rainer, Tamy Ben-Tor, Ulla van Brandenburg, Candice Breitz and Laurie Simmons. Performa’s 10th anniversary gala was dedicated solely to women artists and supporters of Performa.
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