Hayward's 'Alternative Guide to the Universe' displays female deficit

London’s Hayward Gallery recently showed a survey of seminal outsider artists of the last few decades, including “cosmic” painter Paul Laffoley, doll maker Morton Bartlett and Wisconsin baker-horticulturist, Eugene von Bruenchenhein.

The exhibition, “Alternative Guide to the Universe,” which ran from June 11 to Aug. 26 -- got some posthumous attention Wednesday when Hyperallergic.com  asked why 91.3% of the participating artists were male. Only two of the artists in the show -- Lee Godie and Guo Fengyi -- were female.

Hayward Gallery describes the show as offering “bracingly unorthodox perspectives,” but with the almost exclusively male presence, as Hyperallergic points out, it is hardly alternative.

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In the Guardian’s review, Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff said the exhibition was meant to provide an uber-outsider perspective.

“We are going outside the parameters of the so-called art world," Rugoff said. "We are going outside the parameters of the so-called outsider art world."

Rugoff, an American curator, only briefly addressed the fact that only two women artists were featured in the show.

"Maybe women are more down to earth," he said in the Guardian.

Hyperallergic then queried Rugoff about this comment, as well as about the gender imbalance of the show. In an email exchange with the online arts magazine, Rugoff said that his comment was taken out of context.

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“It was asked as a question, not asserted as a statement,” he said. “I researched many artists for AGU over an 18 month period and in the process encountered few women artists who fit within the exhibition’s brief — e.g. artists who were proposing alternative versions of existing cultural systems of knowledge.”

Rugoff told the Guardian that he hoped visitors would leave the show encouraged to think about things in a new and different way.

Perhaps curators of major exhibitions, however, should think about things differently -- or at least more inclusively -- when planning such a show.


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