But Still, Like Air, I’ll Rise



by Chus Martínez

e-flux Journal #92,  June 2018
e-flux.com/journal

I am under the impression that when a woman reaches a certain position, all the privileges that this position has implied historically are already gone. It is very often the case that a woman’s arrival at a high level of influence within an organization is also an indicator of an internal crisis that is going to affect the whole organization. It is often said that there is an increase of women directors at mid-sized institutions (like Kunstvereine in Germany, Kunsthalles, and other non-for-profit structures) and yet this abundance is accompanied by talk of an institutional crisis, and a negative development of the budget and the staff, together with a demand of the newly appointed women directors to compensate for the lack of third-party funding for the institutions.

To name one of the most salient cases I experienced: before the establishment of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Sala Rekalde was the most important space for contemporary art in the city and had always been directed by men. However, this changed with the arrival of a bigger and much more internationally recognized institution. Public budgets moved towards the new player, and before completely closing down the old structure, a team of women directors and curators were put in place to study the continuing viability of Sala Rekalde. These kind of displacements took place not only in Spain, but all over Europe. We could study how access to certain structures corresponds with the will on the part of their funding bodies—public and private—to reduce operating costs, to rely on “women’s commitment” to compensate for a negative turn of events.

On my part, I experienced firsthand, twice, that the offer to lead or to work in a top position at an art organization implied a desire on the part of the board and the public funding body to reduce costs, a desire that materialized in the salary offered to me. Public and private structures are programmed to source “urgent understanding” from women, and take advantage of our will to participate and to be included. Both times that I helmed major art institutions, only my firm demand to know the salary of my predecessors—men—allowed me to make a forceful case to be paid not less or as much as they had been paid, but a bit more, so that the position would continue to be perceived by all parties involved as an important one. And here is my contention: it is crucial not only to count the number of positions women occupy, but also the salaries they earn and the budgets and teams with which they operate. And this applies to all cultural institutions—not only exhibiting institutions but also educational ones. […]

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Alexandra Navratil, Under Saturn, 2018, video still. Courtesy of the artist and Dan Gunn Gallery, London.