Are all male exhibitions problematic?
While I completely identify with the frustration regarding the issue of female presence in the art world and the ambivalence when considering all-female exhibitions, there are somethings that can be done to change the situation and rectify several centuries of disregarding women artists.
Firstly, I do feel that, at least in Brazil, we usually face a double problem: on the one hand, female absence in exhibitions does seem to reinforce sexism and discrimination, echoing fallacies such as female inferiority or some other lame position. But on the other hand, when we propose new approaches to the subject such as an all female contemporary art show (unlike the New Museum one, which involved stereotypical issues) or institutions develop public calls dedicated to women artists, it is not unusual to hear that such initiatives actually strengthen the perception that those artists do not deserve to be there for no reason other than their gender, or that depending on quotas actually shows that these women otherwise wouldn't have a space in the art scene because they simply weren't good enough. Ok, I know that acting as though this is obviously ridiculous doesn't help the debate, and probably enlightenment isn't just around the corner the same way we don't necessarily hold the Truth, but it is quite infuriating to lose on both ends! Not addressing the issue of female presence holds us back and perpetuates the status quo; curating all-female exhibitions seems to equally disfavour real changes in this ongoing marginalization process, especially when such shows are based on patronizing or condescending curatorial mottos.
Looking at contemporary art galleries, for example, we actually have more female-run galleries than male-run ones, while most of them represent twice as many male artists. Some even go as low as having only one fifth of women among their artists. I know that this pertains only to Brazil, but this scenario was surprising to me.
Historical exhibitions "rescuing" women artists from footnotes or even total neglect are less criticised but still raise doubt and demur. The Frida Kahlo and surrealist women artists exhibition held at Tomie Ohtake Institute recently rekindled some of these arguments, some bickering and one or two real reflections on revisionism and feminism. As a "historical" show, it counted on the time and effort of curators and researchers who are trying to recover women artists who were forgotten or actively erased from art history. This is not an easy task (probably, it is an infinite one!).
Objectively speaking, gender and race are definitely not valid curatorial criteria, but who can be objective when dealing with art, artists, history and, let's face it, people themselves? I know I can't. As I've been slowly realizing over the past five years of working in this area, almost everything is a matter of interpretation, textual construction and obviously perspective. Sometimes we push too hard when trying to fit an artist in a specific curatorial project, or we actively misuse a word claiming poetic license, and it is common to forgive artists' personal faults because of their amazing works. There's hardly anything objective in my work and most things depend on our perspective or are even a matter of opinion. Gender and race are part of the fabric of life, and art is just another realm where we could replicate inequalities or work towards rectifying them.
Nonetheless, this is not to say that gender bias SHOULDN'T be an issue anymore, that I don't wish we could have already healthily surpassed this anachronistic adversity. It shouldn't matter but it still does and there has to be a way of exposing it within the art market and art world without running the risk of limiting the issue to fashion, marriage or sex, without running the risk of reinforcing bias through the idea that all-female exhibitions exist because of quotas or similar arguments, and without perpetuating a monolithic view of gender as a binary construct and femininity as a static permanent condition.