NGV#cockfest: Dummies and Dollies, Viktor & Rolf
‘Does the NGV have a problem with women?’ The Guardian recently asked its vast readership. More shocking than seeing the question in print, was that we already know the answer. The NGV has a problem with women. It’s a big problem too because the NGV continue to deny that there is a problem. The NGV’s problem with women is so entrenched, its everywhere you look. It’s online, it’s in the galleries, the programming, the publicity, the collection, the language of the place. The NGV is a bustling mausoleum of white male privilege. The NGV does not present an artistic programme that is equitable. Instead they continue to present the creative stories of more rich white, successful European men than you can shake a dick at. Its like the place has misinterpreted Robert Hughes’ ‘Shock of the New’ by its flawed reasoning that: ‘nothing is new anymore, so let’s just run wild with the shocking bit’. And there’s nothing more shocking than how sexist and racist Australia still is today.
At the NGV women are systematically seen but not heard, decorated but ignored, adorned and paraded ‘round its galleries, but always silent. At the NGV, the State funds the repetitive representation of women and girls as dummies, dollies and dancers, as seen through the celebrated lens of the gaze of ‘genius’ male artists. The makers of these Masterpieces are mostly rich, white men from Europe. What’s up with that? Is this institution nostalgic for the good old days of the White Australia Policy? It’s really perving me out now.
To be a woman working as an artist in Australia is to be discriminated against. In Australia, art made by women is not valued (exhibited, promoted, collected, funded, awarded, publicised, preserved), commensurate to art made by men. Having our work undervalued or ignored is a passive form of aggression against female artists. These are the facts and only killer clowns argue against reason. Women get to be the subject of the art and men get to be the visionaries who make the art. Women get to buy the postcards and the T-shirts and the marked up silk scarves, to promote the creative genius of male visionaries. The NGV routinely situates women as cultural consumers rather than as valued makers of culture. http://thecountessreport.com.au
The Victorian Government recently announced the introduction of a $21.8 million education program in schools that addresses male privilege, The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships Program and we applaud them for it too. We’re suggesting the Victorian Government ensures the senior staff at the NGV do the course too, because it doesn’t look like they’re going to address their male privilege unless we make them sit the exam.
Serial Arts Board Director Steven Skala and his goon mates at the right wing think tank Centre of Independent Studies, and their overlord Rupert Murdoch at the Australian, they hate the idea of this course for schoolkids. That’s how you can tell it will be good.
In the new Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships course, students learn such gems of wisdom as: “Being born a male, you have advantages — such as being overly represented in the public sphere.”
The NGV is a huge, expensive, state funded public sphere. I’m calling on Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, Martin Foley, Minister of Creative Victoria and on the Board of Trustees of the NGV, to conduct a thorough Gender Audit of the State’s key Arts Organisation. The Gender Audit must include: staff, positions and salaries, (average pay for male and female staff) the gender of the makers of the entire, vast collection that we preserve and the prices paid to artists for their work and the programming and publicity for the exhibitions of Australia’s most frequented museum.
No publicist can spin an argument that the artistic program of the NGV delivers gender equity, because it is not true. What the NGV does deliver is one massive, turgid, ticking State funded #cockfest. The gallery rolls from one Masterpiece show to the next, the male privilege seemingly unabated and looking (unfortunately) remarkably tired. Like the final days of an Empire in demise. The program is so extremely gendered that it is beginning now to take on an increasingly sinister air. It looks like the NGV has never addressed its male privilege in the way that the State Government is now requiring school children to. Which is a very solid foundation for an absurdly funny sketch comedy skit, based as it is in such deep contradiction. Sure, the artistic efforts of women haven’t been completely disappeared, they’re just up the escalator to the third floor, down the corridor to the right, in that distant corner. Historically, art made by women has always struggled to be seen, and the NGV aren’t helping to change that.
Director of the NGV Tony Ellwood, is paid more than the Premier who employs him. Weird huh. It’s like saying running an art gallery is a bigger job than running the State. It raises the question of who is working for who, but hey, we’ll leave that for you blokes to sort out. It doesn’t concern women. There’s never been a female director of the NGV, and there’s only once been a female Premier of Victoria, and you guys did Joan Kirner in in record time. Given Tony Ellwood is paid over 10 grand each and every week, that’s enough cake to sort out a little issue like getting the NGV to address its white male privilege. Even when there seems to be a demonstrable reluctance to move with the times. That’s why Tony earns the big bucks: the NGV is his responsibility. And he can do it too. Tony is so smart that even when the NGV surplus goes down (from $13.79 million to the latest reported surplus of $6.88 million), his salary still goes up. Usually it’s the other way round. (Sorry Tony, I’m totally not generally a dibby-dobber but WTF. An even playing field is like written down in the charter and that. Charters like totally normally have two teams…. At the moment you only put up one overly funded Boys team. That women help pay for. Like: ‘Earth to Tony……it’s women here. We’re the people with the longer hair and the skirts on’.
The only problem with quotas is that they work. See, if I was Premier of Victoria, I’d link the salary of the Director of the NGV to the delivery of gender equity and diversity within the organization she leads. Simple.
Dutch born dynamic duo Viktor & Rolf are the latest Cockbuster show to open at the NGV, in what appears to be a never ending cavalcade of talented men from far flung destinations, brought here to demonstrate how superior men are. And very lucky we are to have had them here too. Viktor & Rolf are ‘Fashion Artists’, as opposed to real artists. They put on their best mansplaining caps on to explain to us the difference (and it does take some explaining) but don’t worry: there’s still plenty for we Ladies Who Lunch to buy at the Design Store (located within precious NGV exhibition space for the duraton of the show).
I love it when men tell us what to wear. I love it almost as much as when men tell us what not to wear. I like when men tell us what clothes to take off too, but fashion designers (I mean ‘Fashion Artists’), they prefer to tell women to put more clothes on. It’s all part of their ‘up-sell’ narratives:
“More is more darling”, they gently insist. “Now put this on. And this. And here. This too. Yes! Oh Yes! You are now beautiful and we take all major credit cards. This season is all about volume and texture darling. You see? Now you’re looking simply fabulous. FABULOUS!! This outfit is an investment in your future. You deserve it, you work so hard, why not look this good. Impressions are everything darling! Yes yes, Amex is fine”
Museum fashion shows throw up a fertile ground of hotly contested ‘women’s issues’ that Museums then routinely pretend don’t exist. Ha ha. Issues like: ‘Have we just presented another show objectifying women?’
Or: ‘Have we sold out art by turning this museum into a high end Department Store?’
Or: ‘How do we best represent the women who the fashion designers (I mean Fashion Artists) are trying to flog their frocks to, without being sexist?’
Or: ‘Should we hand the microphone to a woman to talk about women’s fashion occasionally given she has ‘lived experience’ of women’s fashion?’
Or: ‘Have we just helped two more men get richer telling women what to wear?’
Exhibition design issues for museum fashion shows are remarkably similar to window dresser design troubles for Department Stores. The problem of how to objectify us and sell us stuff simultaneously without us rioting. You may refer to this problem as the ‘Institutionalized Absent Woman Complex’, and the NGV could well be World Leaders in it. It’s where women are everywhere you look but we’re being spoken for. By men.
Woman as model, as mannequin, as store dummy. Not a ‘live’ walking talking model, an artistic representation of a woman. As seen by men. The Viktor and Rolf exhibition represents women as either a dolly or a dummy. Headless dummies and exquisite, hand-made dollies. Made by master craftsmen that the state of Victoria has paid to bring here and show us. Women’s tax dollars used to further objectify us. I only wish the NGV included within its program as many live, walking, talking women as it did represent women as headless, inanimate objects. Women marginalized as artist, maker, designer, and creative visionaries, but up sold as customers. Who all need some expensive Viktor & Rolf merchandise to make us feel better about surviving within a sexist society.
‘Women will be able thoughtlessly to adorn ourselves with pretty objects when there is no question that we are not objects. Women will be free of the beauty myth when we can choose to use our faces and clothes and bodies as simply one form of self expression out of a range of others. We can dress up for our pleasure, but we must speak up for our rights.’ –Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth.
At the NGV rarely do women speak, let alone speak about our rights.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boccaN98V90 16.11 mins. Viktor & Rolf’s break through Russian Doll series. The Fashion Artists strap the bored, undernourished waif/model down to a rotating platform by her shoes. She spins round and round like a ballerina in a jewellery box. The Fashion Artists dress the mannequin in layer upon layer of ‘Wearable Art’ till she can barely stand and appears to have been eaten by fashion. Her distress is contained but audible, a sinister soundscape enhances the general air of menace. With each successive ‘preparation’ added to weigh the woman down, the fashion crowd applaud, the ‘performance artists’ receive a standing ovation at the performances end. Stars are born.
The history of Western fashion is a history of men literally weighing women down. Or hobbling us, so we can’t run away. Or corsetting us so we can’t breath. Or placing us in chastity belts, so we can’t have a bit of honest fun on the side while our men are away being Imperialist Wankers. And here’s the doozey: fashion has always worked as a discreet but constant indicator of class. It’s always been historically important for the rich to be able to quickly tell who not to waste their time speaking to. Or falling for.
You know women spend a hell of a lot more money on clothes than men do. We tax ourselves. We’ve bought the complex lie that how we look is more important than how men look. If you’re not feeling good about how you look, you’re a more highly valued customer. At the NGV, women are valued mostly as consumers who should run wild in the NGV Design Store, (that’s the Gift Shop with pretentions). Women as consumers of the merchandise from the art and culture men create. ‘I shop therefore I am’ declared Barbara Kruger, but you won’t see this work at the NGV. It’s ‘off message’.
I love Fashion Shows as much as the next fashion sceptic. I love how fashion wants to be art. But without the boring politics. Fashion doesn’t have a real great political track record, more of a TRACKSUIT record. Boom boom. Out of all the ‘let’s pretend we’re art now’ areas, fashion is the most politically incorrect. Which could attest to fashion’s success in sashaying right into our museums and having a rollicking whale of a good time. Museums dabble in politics in much the same way as fashion dabbles in politics. Badly. Both fashion and museums understand politics to have agency right now, they want in, but they’re nervous. The mess of real politics is to be left at the door. Museums and fashion are both media whores who like to deny their political responsibilities. It’s all just business. And in business there is one thing you can’t challenge. And that’s how many units you’ve shifted. Like it or not, fashion shows in art galleries are highly successful. And highly problematic. Museums look increasingly to be ‘Of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.’ Because seriously, who can afford to dress in Haute Couture except the 1%?
It’s funny but the fashion industry isn’t based on fashion. The fashion industry is based on how women smell. Or on how we think we smell. Fashion Houses ‘help’ women smell better by selling us, a whole lot of us, (who can’t afford haute couture because we’re routinely underpaid our entire working lives), a scent. To mask how we really smell. We want to associate ourselves with famous designers because they are so glamorous and extravagant and we have been taught to be aspirational, we want in on the opulence luxury brands represent. But poor us, all we can afford is the perfume, so we smell better. The fashion industry literally stinks.
Speaking about women and money and what we can and can’t afford, here’s some trends you can’t dress up:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/11/single-women-cant-afford-to-live-in-the-city-and-men-can-is-that-fair Last week we learned that single women on average pay can’t afford to live alone in Sydney or in most Melbourne suburbs, the two most populous cities in Australia.
http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4160205.htm 8.13mins. Sobering ABC Report from last year about older women swelling the ranks of the homeless.
Anyway, Viktor & Rolf are gagging to be Fashion Artists. Everywhere you look, their branding screams at us: ‘Viktor & Rolf Fashion Artists’. Massive blown up photos of the fashion geniuses stare down at us, their puppy dog eyes begging us to love them. Such is their desperation, Viktor & Rolf have co-opted the language of art throughout their exhibition. They design ‘wearable art’, they ‘perform sculptures’, ‘the collections graphic and geometric volumes suggest a sculptor’s hand working a 3 dimensional material such as stone or plaster, in a rapid, improvised manner.’ Fashion shows become ‘performances’, Viktor & Rolf are ‘storytellers and directors’. ‘Many of their earliest collections were presented as installations within art museums, where their avant-garde vision was welcomed for the way it blurred boundaries between art and fashion’ (yawn). I don’t see an avant-garde vision, I see fashion designers trading on art cool to sell clothes to women. Viktor & Rolf donated a dress to the NGV Collection and they gifted their first haute couture male piece to guest curator Thierry Maxime Loriot , that’s the cost of doing business these days.
Viktor & Rolf are better fashion designers than they are fashion artists. Great artists don’t make clunky mistakes like Viktor & Rolf make. Their recent deconstructed painting canvas frocks, complete with gold gilded frames are clunkers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVsphwuA4MM (3.30mins, Fashion is LITERALLY Art for Viktor & Rolf, or this is BAD FASHION AND BAD ART)
But it’s the key image of the show, the huge one plastered on the outside of the NGV that is the real shocker. We see a beautiful blond woman holding a baby, flashing red satin knickers. She’s saying: ‘I’ve got my baby, I’ve got my minge, now if only these stitches would heal we could be away.’ This is an advertisement for the ‘fashion art’ show inside, but really its just another opportunity to sell women false and unrealistic ideals and expectations. Setting us up, if you like, because motherhood sure as hell has never felt anything like this looks to me. But just when you think it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. This huge banner image has been cropped. What has been cropped out is what could be called ‘Disaster Porn’. The woman’s house has been blown down, a hurricane perhaps, or a tornado. She has survived the natural disaster, saved her baby, grabbed a red doona and has a couple of satin cushions stuck inexplicitly to the back of her head. Viktor and Rolf have turned this ensemble into an actual dress or ‘wearable art’. She’s just lost her house (this actually happens to people) and still manages to look glamorous. Who thinks this shit up? Natural Disaster trauma used to advertise high-end fashion. Right here we see the difference between fashion art and real art. Real art is seldom so wrong, or if it is, it never sees the light of day again. This is noxious advertising and not art.
The NGV’s latest annual report has been published. It’s a very good document to have a snoop ‘round, you can see everything from which artists have been acquired, to what employees get paid.
In the Strategic Framework of the NGV (p.10-11), its ‘Vision’ is said to be – ‘Creating an inspiring future, enriching our understanding of art and life.’ The NGV presents a future that looks a whole lot better for men than it does for women. In the ‘Goals and Strategies’ in ‘Bringing art works to life’, the NGV says it wants to: ‘Tell more relevant and diverse stories by broadening our holdings of contemporary art while continuing to acquire key works of historical art.’ But what stories does the NGV persist in telling and retelling us? That women should aspire to be beautiful, glamorous, rich, well dressed and remain largely silent? That girls should be ballerinas who, if they play their cards right, will one day get to be the princess or the bride? That white men have and always will be the world’s very best artists.
It’s not just artists who get judged. Galleries and their Directors, they get judged too. That’s the business we’re all in. We’re all judged for what we do, what we say, for how we think. The NGV is judged for its ‘vision’ as presented within its State funded exhibitions and programs.
The Victorian Government and the NGV need to examine what they are presenting at Australia’s most frequented museum and ask themselves why. Because I’ve been asking myself why I would want to help pay for their warped vision, and I’m not alone. In fact, if you listen closely you can hear the dissent building. We’re not happy with what’s on show and the momentum for change is building. What we need and what we get must come closer together. We’ve waited long enough, what we need now, as a society, is to hear more diverse stories. Stories from people who are not rich white privileged men.
Who’s on over at NGVA? John Olsen: ‘Australia’s greatest living artist’. Problem is, no one believes John Olsen is Australia’s Greatest Living Artist. I’m with Robert Nelson on this one: ‘the more John Olsen’s you hang in a room, the worse the room looks’ (wish I had have written that). In making such absurdly false, grandiose claims, the NGV has self harmed its own reputation as a cultural authority. In fact, it’s all pretty laughable. When she was alive, the NGV didn’t think to call Inge King Australia’s Greatest Artist, even though she was. Female artists don’t get described in such effusive language. No, the NGV gave Inge a long overdue retrospective in a hallway/foyer instead.
Who’s up next at the NGV International? That would be David Hockney, and (guess what) he’s a rich, white privileged European man. The NGV telling more relevant and diverse stories? You’ve got to be joking.
Great article Nat…another truth bomb!
Thanks Natalie. Two quotes written over 100 years ago. Oscar Wilde: “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” And: ” Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Sad that the NGV goes along with such shit. As a white male, I concur with all you have presented. As a relatively poor white male artist I managed in the past to acquire a little Erica McGilchrist painting (1967). It continues to give me much pleasure. The NGV should note what Heide Moma have been trying to do for some time, to alter the stratus quo.
Absolutely nailed it
awesome! so well written and worryingly true- T Elwood has left a trail of destruction as all good psychopathic CEOs will….love the boot sunk firmly into fashion as art also…
“There’s never been a female director of the NGV” … Betty Churcher was a female director of NGV between 1990-1997
Betty Churcher was Director of the NGA, not the NGV
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This is everything my brain has been trying to say. Thank you. I left my career in the not-for-profit sector to study fine art, produce feminist message art and take up creative space! I see how our work as women is valued and it shocks me. I think about my feminist art and while it is suitable for class I can’t enter it in art shows as it is too confronting. Thank you for saying this and for inspiring me to keep going, stand tall and yell loudly!
Essential breakfast reading. Cracker Nat ! X