NAVA backs the work of Countess, documenting gender representation in the contemporary visual arts.

The latest Countess Report, Australia’s premier reference point on gender representation in the contemporary visual arts, was released in October 2019.

The Report reveals significant gender equity gains across public galleries, artist-run initiatives, major museums and university galleries, biennales, commercial galleries and contemporary art organisations, alongside declines at state galleries and museums.

A total of over 13,000 artists across 184 organisations were counted. 

The Report’s highlights include:

  • Women are equally represented (at 50% or higher) in the following categories: art prizes, contemporary art organisations, boards and executive staff, and artist-run spaces;
  • Artist-run spaces have exhibited 61.38% women (up from 49.37%), 34.78% men, and 2% non-binary artists;
  • Commercial galleries have exhibited 53% women (up from 39%), and 43% of represented artists are women (up from 39%);
  • State-owned galleries have exhibited 33.98% women (down from 36.90%) and 66.02% men (up from 56.80%), with no data available on non-binary artists;
  • Director or CEO-level roles are held by 61.36% women and 38.63% men overall, while among state-owned galleries, the figures are 12.50% women and 87.50% men.

“Since the release of the inaugural Countess Report in 2016, the Countess Collective has evolved as artists and activists” the Countess Report says. “Our aim in the release of these updated figures is to critically observe the changes in gender representation across the Australian art sector. We intend for these statistics to keep conversations around gender, power and value front of mind at art galleries, museums, art fairs and biennales across the nation.”

Statistical data has been drawn from the nation’s state and publicly funded museums and galleries, the commercial gallery sector, leading contemporary art spaces, public galleries, artist-run initiatives, art fairs, biennales and art prizes. Data counted includes: artists presented in exhibitions, art fairs and biennales; art school graduates; art prize winners; and board members, executive and curatorial staff.

The statistics can be understood within expanded Countess activities which include a new online platform that features essays and resources, as well as artworks. In this context, the data asks questions of labour, counting, intersectional feminism and issues of representation.

The Report was complied by The Countess Report with data collected by a team of counters from across Australia. Counters worked with an emphasis on using primary sources, such as artists websites, to ensure direct evidence and authoritative information and could correctly record gender.

A considered approach has been taken to the counting of non-binary artists, and, like all aspects of the report, this approach is open to critique and improvement so as to prevent misuse of out-of-date or inaccurate information. 

The Countess Report is funded by the Sheila Foundation Ltd (formerly Cruthers Art Foundation), and backed by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

The Countess Report was first released in 2016 and is a benchmark piece of research for the Australian visual arts sector.

Produced over a year by artist Elvis Richardson, this report reveals the extent of gender imbalance across the spectrum of the contemporary art world.

Author of the report, artist Elvis Richardson said, “Through my CoUNTess blog, I have been doing some overdue statistical research confirming what many have been discussing too quietly; the systematic gender inequality in the art world.”

Statistical data has been drawn from the nation’s state and publicly funded museums and galleries, the commercial gallery sector, leading contemporary art spaces and artist run initiatives. The report is funded by Western Australia’s Cruthers Art Foundation.

Tamara Winikoff, former Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) observed, “Despite the reputation of the arts as challenging outdated paradigms, it continues to fail on gender issues. Old habits die hard. We thought we’d won the battle in the 80s when the spotlight was shone on the systemic privileging of men in the arts. I hope this excellent report will rekindle the discussion and bring about a much needed change.”

The report highlights that:

  • major collecting institutions favour solo exhibitions and the acquisition of new artwork by male artists
  • overall women outnumber men as recipients of art prizes, however, when factoring in the prize pool, men receive a higher proportion of the prize money
  • at a tertiary level (undergraduate and postgraduate) three quarters of visual arts graduates are women, however, once students graduate there is a significant drop in the programming,
  • participation and representation of women artists in the nation’s major institutions, public art events and in the commercial art market
  • a higher proportion of women serve in a voluntary capacity on the management committees and boards of Artist Run Initiatives than in each of the major state galleries.

A number of notable Australians from across the arts have contributed to and reviewed the final report including members of its steering committee: Dr. Eva Cox AO, Dr Jacqueline Milner, Tamara Winikoff OAM, Amanda Rowell and John Cruthers.

Dr Eva Cox said “The Countess Report is an essential reminder that gender unfairly affects women in the visual arts, as in all other creative areas. The collected data confirm that biases filter the lived experiences of the 75% female visual arts graduates into only 34% of the creators of the art we see in state museums. The valuable details reported indicate where to search for clues of how masculinised merit judgments have infiltrated the judgment of so many of our cultural institutions, failing to represent the visions of women.”

Cruthers Art Foundation chair and project steering committee member John Cruthers said, “The report should be used to guide funding organisations, galleries, museums, exhibitions, foundations and arts media in areas of gender representation and gender equality. It also establishes a significant benchmark for gender representation in the Australian visual art sector so that our future progress towards equality can be quantified.”

Countess: women count in the artworld

About the Project

The Countess blog was started in 2008 as an artist project by Elvis Richardson.

Each post was the result of substantial research and data collection on gender representation in the Australian visual art sector.

Richardson combines her love of statistics and info graphics to post examining the performance of significant events, exhibitions and organisations such as the Biennale of Sydney, GOMA, Broadsheet magazine and Australia Council for the Arts.

Elvis explains, “I started the blog in 2008. At the time blogs were really getting popular and they are free so I saw an easy opportunity to make a cultural interjection… I see the blog as part of my art practice methodology to observe and record the world around me. I had long been counting ratios of male and female artists particularly in magazines and their advertised exhibitions…. It was obvious the dominant narratives, histories, subjects even mediums were always being reinscribed as authentically male. It’s a lot of history to rise above when you’re a female artist.”

The work of Countess continues with volunteers in Sydney and Melbourne. As well as continuing the important work of data collection and dialogue around gender equity Countess plans to launch an expanded online platform that will actively commission essays and reviews and creative responses that contribute a wider analysis and dialogue around the issues that create and effect gender equity in the Australian visual arts.

Cruthers Art Foundation

The Cruthers Art Foundation supports the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art at The University of Western Australia, Australia’s largest stand alone collection of women’s art, it also advocates nationally for women’s art and women artists through funding research projects, publications, exhibitions, symposia and advocacy campaigns.

Countess in the News

Jo Pickup, New arts policy quiet on gender equity: should we be worried? Arts Hub, 8 February 2023

Julie Ewington, On Balance: Women making art today, Art Guide Australia, 8 March 2022

Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios, Gender bias in the art world, The Saturday Paper, 2 November 2019

Jane Howard, All I want to see is more bad art by women. Give someone else a chance to fail, The Guardian, 1 November 2019

Eloise Fuss, Gender representation in Australian contemporary art sector reaches parity, but major galleries still lagging, ABC, 1 November 2019

Linda Morris, Women artists win parity but report shows there's still work to do, SMH, 30 October 2019

Gina Fairley, Win for women, as new report shows increased gender equality in the visual arts, Arts Hub, 30 October 2019

Gina Fairley, Sheilas in the art market – gender bias goes commercial, Arts Hub, 21 September 2018

Melanie Kembrey, Australian women call time on abuse of power in art world, SMH, 15 September 2018

Lyle Branson,  Still counting: why the visual arts must do better on gender equality, The Conversation, 6 December 2017

Gina Fairley, Are we finally counting right?, ArtsHub, 22 September 2017

Sarah Boxer, An Era for Women Artists? The Atlantic, December 2016

Gina Fairley, Tate Modern director on risk and gender, ArtsHub, 30 August 2016

Andrew Stephens, The Countess Report counts the cost of art’s gender gap, SMH 6 May 2016

Jane Raffan, Counting (and accounting for) Women in the Visual Arts – The CoUNTess Report, Eastside radio, 3 May 2016

Dewi Cooke, Art life: Tough enough to succeed, especially if you're a woman, The Age, 8 March 2016

Ben Neutze, Gender imbalance rife in parts of Australia’s visual arts sector, new report reveals, Daily Review, 8 March 2016

Breakfast Radio Adelaide, Interview with Tamara Winikoff, 8 March 2016

Madeleine Dore, Research reveals continuing gender bias, ArtsHub, 8 March 2016

Toby Fehily, New survey paints grim picture of gender balance in Australian visual arts, The Guardian, 9 March 2016

​Q&A with Elvis Richardson

NAVA spoke with Elvis Richardson, artist, academic and author of the blog, CoUNTess, on her practice and experience as an artist.

Q&A with the CoUNTess Team

We caught up with the Countess Team to discuss the impact their research has had on the contemporary Australian visual arts sector over the past 9 years.

CoUNTess: Spoiling Illusions Since 2008

An excerpt from CoUNTess: Spoiling Illusions since 2008 by Melinda Rackham and Elvis Richardson.