Science

Male, White Artists Cup Top U.S. Museums

Mathematician Chad Topaz says that while working at William College (USA), the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – about a ten-minute drive away – opened a new art room.

“I was interested in the artists they had chosen for the exhibition and wanted to know if it was a diverse show, but when I asked I saw that there was no large-scale study of it. I immediately fell in love with the idea of carrying out the study,” this professor from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics tells Sinc.

This week, PLOS ONE magazine publishes the results of this demographic research in which Topaz and his colleagues analyse the gender, geographical origin, ethnicity and decade of birth of the artists exhibited in the main American museums.

“This is the first large-scale study of the diversity of artists. We analyzed 18 of the most important art museums in the United States, selected by the art experts in our team, so we believe that the results are representative of the situation in many other galleries,” says the researcher.

After choosing the museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, they used the crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk to filter and demographically categorize the authors of both paintings and non-paintings. To validate the data, the researchers verified a random sample of the record.

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The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA) is one of those included in the research exhibition. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

According to the results, of the 9,000 artists studied, 85% are white and 87% are men. The four largest groups of authors are white men (75.7%), white women (10.8%), Asian men (7.5%) and Hispanic or Latino men (2.6%).

The situation in all centres is not homogeneous. For example, about 10.6% of the artists at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta are black or African American, compared to 1.2% of the average.

Only individual and identifiable artists appearing in museum web catalogues are included in the sample. “Therefore, the conclusions are only valid for the subset of artistic manifestations with only one author and that is known”, underlines the mathematician.

“When talking about diversity in art, there are two major groups: those who know that the lack of diversity exists and those who deny that it is a problem,” he says. “The work provides an empirical basis for the former and I hope it also helps to counteract the latter.

For Topaz, despite the limitations of the work, the results could help art galleries make decisions about their collections and the methodology could be applied to assess diversity in other fields.

“We also observe that there are museums that share more or less similar profiles in terms of their exhibitions and yet have very different levels of representation of women and people of different ethnicities,” the expert says. “This suggests that a museum that wishes to increase the diversity of its collection could do so without changing its approach,” he concludes. (Source: SINC)

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