Howardena Pindell’s published texts provide little information on her specific research methodology. In developing recommendations for organizations and scholars wanting to create modern-day surveys of the art world, we have combined what is known about Pindell’s surveys with data collection tools and practices available to us today.
To develop her report Art (World) Racism, Pindell requested exhibition lists from seven of New York City’s major art museums: Brooklyn Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Queens Museum, and Snug Harbor Museum. She also looked at a number of New York galleries. In her analysis of exhibition checklists, Pindell noted the number of exhibitions that featured artists of color at each institution, as well as the percentage of that institution’s program that was devoted to artists of European descent (noted as “W” in her report). This data served as supporting evidence for the conclusions that appear the “Art (World) & Racism; Statistics, Testimony and Supporting Documentation” report and “Commentary and Update of Gallery and Museum Statistics, 1986–1997.” The second report also includes a partial roster of curators of color in US museums and a comparative analysis of NEA funding in 1996 for white and non-white artists.
At the MCA, several projects to study the current art world landscape developed around a shared, updated data collection strategy. The MCA teams replicated Pindell’s known notations for ethnicity: the notations seemed sensible, despite not conforming exactly to standards found today in such sources as the US Census or the National Center for Education Statistics. We have, however, removed the label “Indian” because its definition was unclear and it seemed to be covered under multiple categories.
Our proposed data collection template adds additional categories to Pindell’s race-based listings. Our ideal data set now includes gender, length of exhibition, number of artworks, and location within the museum to support data analysis goals as follows:
—We have included gender in order to examine the extent that sexism occurs in the art world. The gender definition key includes six categories based on research compiled by the Williams Institute: male, female, trans male, trans female, gender nonconforming, and unknown.
—Recording the length of an exhibition helps to determine the priority a museum places on an artist or topic and provides a weighting tool for normalizing data across exhibitions of different lengths and institutional prominence. Similarly, we have added a field for location to allow for review of the relationship of race or gender to the physical placement of an artist within an institution (for example, the MCA’s largest shows devoted to mature artists are usually installed in our 4th-floor Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art, while smaller shows devoted to local or emerging artists are usually installed in our 2nd- and 3rd-floor galleries).
—Including the number of works per artist in each exhibition allows us to weigh representation in both group shows and solo exhibitions in any given year.
Other researchers may wish to collect data in different categories, depending on their analysis goals.
Our goal is to be consistent and comprehensive. In the interest of creating a useful dataset, we have limited the fields we are collecting to institution, location, exhibition title, solo or group exhibition, weeks on view, artist group or collective, artist name, number of works by artist, ethnic/racial identity (with a related field recording the source of the information), and gender identity (with a related field recording the source of the information). Through exhibition labels posted online, we have been able to easily identify how many artists and artworks were in each exhibition.
As Pindell herself noted in The Heart of the Question, organizing statistics on ethnicity can be difficult due to overlapping cultural heritages. Consequently, it is not the practice of most museums to publish or catalogue information about the ethnicity of artists whose works they collect. Getty’s Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) lists only the nationality, not the ethnicity, of an artist. In addition, its listing tends to focus on established artists; many emerging artists are not included in the resource. We do, however, suggest starting with ULAN. While it is not a perfect source for ethnicity, we have found that it proves a solid reference for gender identity.
At the MCA, curatorial knowledge was the source of much of our data about ethnicity: because many of the artists featured in our exhibitions are still living, we relied heavily on our staff’s personal relationships with them and/or their research into their backgrounds. We recognize that this method is imperfect and does not factor in how people many self-identify; however, we feel that these categories are a useful starting point for data collection.
We are including here a sample spreadsheet in a sortable, searchable format and have established a data collection schema as a starting point to encourage others to complete their own art world surveys. We encourage participants who wish to share their findings here to append to their data some form of summary analysis and to send your reports to us for publication.