18%: Artist Micol Hebron tallies the presence of women on Artforum covers

Artist Micol Hebron analyzes Artforum: Only 18% of its covers feature art by women

Over the last few weeks, Los Angeles artist Micol Hebron has been digging through the archives of art industry bible Artforum, conducting an analysis of who was featured on every single cover dating to the magazine's founding.

What she found: Of the 526 monthly covers produced since 1962, when the prestigious art industry bible first launched, only 18% feature art by women. Works by male artists made a whopping 74% of the covers; 8% are unidentified, since they feature works such as historic African sculpture, in which the artist goes unnamed.

"There's a certain agency to being on that cover," says Hebron, who is also an art professor at Chapman University. "It really got me thinking. It occurred to me that if I had seen women instead of men every time I looked at art history, my sense of opportunity would be really different. My sense of legacy would be really different."

This isn't the first time Hebron has tracked the dude-centric nature of the commercial art world. 

In 2013, she launched a collaborative art project called "Gallery Tally," in which she tracked the representation of women in Los Angeles and New York commercial galleries. She found that almost 70% of artists represented by galleries in the country's two biggest cities are male. Artists from all over the world then created posters that documented and interpreted the figures, which Hebron showed in an exhibition at ForYourArt in Mid-Wilshire in early 2014. 

"My research has a lot to do with the ways artists are politicized and historicized," she says. "As a female artist, looking at my community of artists, and looking at my impact and how my legacy might be recorded and archived, I have to look at this trajectory and think about how I might be included. I look at Artforum and I have an 18% chance, according to the statistics."

For years, Hebron has kept an informal tally of the number of women featured in Artforum. The numbers have rarely been good for women, she says, with the magazine generally featuring a rough average of seven men to every three women in its ad pages. The cover project is a deeper examination of how gender balance breaks out in the magazine. (Artforum, like Vogue, is most often judged by the contents of its cover and its voluminous advertising.)

Recently, the magazine posted every cover dating back to its founding on its online archives.

"I had started casually browsing the archives online," Hebron says. "Then they posted all the covers back to 1962. That's fairly new ... So I started counting. It got to be this weirdly obsessive thing. Once you count one year, you feel like you have to count the next. And I started to ask myself, 'Is this how a gambler feels? Maybe if I count again I can get a better number.'"

Hebron says that, over the years, there has been a general trend toward more gender equity, but men still vastly outnumber women on the cover.

"You can see one year where there are more women than men," she says. "That was 1992. And it's really interesting, because it just precedes the 1993 [Whitney] Biennial, which is a historic biennial because it looked at identity."

But then, she says, "it gets worse." 

"The same things happens in 2008," adds Hebron. "There's parity. But then in 2009, there's only one woman."

She adds, with a laugh: "I think of these numbers and I have these funny sexual analogies in my mind. It's like you have this one-night stand and then both parties immediately regret it."

In her research, she stumbled into all manner of curious historical tidbits, too.

The first woman artist to be featured was California painter Joan Brown in 1963. (There is currently a Brown canvas on view in the permanent collection galleries at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.) But it took the magazine a while to put an African American on its cover. That would be in October 1979, when the work of sculptor Martin Puryear was featured.

"It's crazy!" exclaims Hebron. "This magazine was being published throughout the entire civil rights movements and Vietnam and it has nothing! I mean, I guess this is why we have the journal October. They're the ones who address politics."

Hebron also says that the magazine, quite curiously, has also reflected the cities in which it was made. Artforum was founded in San Francisco, resided in Los Angeles for a couple of years in the mid-1960s, then in 1967 moved to New York, where it remains to this day.

"You can see the shift that occurs from San Francisco to Los Angeles to New York," she says. "In L.A., it's all kind of abstract, light and space. In San Francisco, it's funkier — more beatnik experimental. And once it goes to New York, well, it just becomes very New York." 

The covers, collectively, also manage to reflect trends in art in the second half of the 20th century.

"It became this amazing art history lesson," Hebron says. "You start looking and several years at the beginning, it's just kind of abstraction. Then figuration starts to come into it. And the '80s hits and it kind of gets wild. It's this interesting barometer of art."

Right now, Hebron is at work on further tabulations. She's studying who has appeared the most times on the cover.

"I haven't figured it out yet, but artists like Picasso, Barnett Newman and Matisse all appear on the cover multiple times," she says. "Louise Bourgeois, I think has two."

As in the past, Hebron is making art out of her findings. (She currently has a pair of posters in the works.) She is also looking to tally other magazines, such as ARTnews and Art in America. 

"My summer is spoken for," she says. "I'm going to be counting."

Follow Micol Hebron's research at the Gallery Tally's Facebook group page, where she and other artists regularly post findings about gender in the arts.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
68°