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Art World Race and Gender Survey 2016


During my time at the MCA, I examined the 2016 exhibitions of three New York museums. (I only included a show if it opened in 2016.) My data set included all of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s solo and group exhibitions, excluding teen art exhibits or exhibits on ephemera (which I noted in the data sheet); the Brooklyn Museum; and all of MoMA’s solo shows. It is important to note that the data I gathered on MoMA’s solo exhibitions only has the shows by artists of color listed.

To be consistent with Pindell, I listed the solo exhibitions for the Met and the Brooklyn Museum, identified the artist’s race or ethnicity according to their biographies, and if necessary used photographs of the artists or the etymology of their first and last names (thus, race statistics are not based purely on self-identification). For group shows, Pindell wrote that checklists “need to be scrutinized,”1 so I went over the checklist when it was available online. If it wasn’t, I contacted the institution for a list of artists. A list of objects would have been more thorough—but harder to acquire—since each artist might not be represented equally in a show). For the most part, I listed the number of artists of each race or ethnicity represented in the show, replicating Pindell’s breakdown of group shows. Pindell, however, included solo and group shows in the same overall statistics for an institution. I chose instead to break the shows down by solo and group, though I still think an overall statistic of shows devoted to European art at each institution should be gathered by year.

Although Pindell did not include gender as a part of her demographics, my predecessor and I deemed it important to include. I also noted the location of shows at the Met—whether they were at Fifth Avenue, the Cloisters, or the Breuer—to highlight other trends. Future studies might consider breaking down exhibits by their run time, for some of the shows I included in my statistics lasted for two years, while others lasted no more than a month.

Pindell was generous when compiling her statistics. For example, she included Film and Video statistics for MoMA simply because there were artists of color represented there (otherwise, the institution would have been listed as having represented 100% white artists). She included Egypt with Africa in her demographics, even though, she writes, “people of European descent usually prefer to include them with Western art statistics.”2 As she points out, organizing these statistics can sometimes be difficult because of overlapping cultural heritages. I have tried to mimic her generosity in approaching this study, often listing white Hispanics or Eurasians from outside the US as “H” or “ME.”


In my notation, I often used the same labels and terminology as Pindell, such as “H” for “Hispanic” instead of “Latinx.” I continued to use “NA” for “Native American,” though I also used “NA/ME” (“North African/Middle Eastern”) instead of “ME.” I generally used “F” for “female-identifying” and “M” for “male-identifying.”


While I have not broken down these demographics according to gender here, the breakdown of group shows reveals that women artists of color are particularly underrepresented in museums. As I suggested, in addition to gathering information about the rest of the institutions and the years between now and when Pindell left off, it would also be worthwhile to investigate the run-time of shows, as well as their location and scale (especially at larger institutions like the Met and MoMA).




According to Pindell, “the [Met’s] program for 1980–1986 indicates that 82% [of exhibits] focused on art and artists of European descent.”3 When she updated these statistics about a decade later, she noted that this percentage dropped to 75%.4 Looking at only the solo exhibitions that opened at the Met in 2016, 84% (16 out of 19) were the work of white artists. Two of the three shows for artists of color took place at the Met Breuer: Kerry James Marshall: Mastry and Nasreen Mohamedi.

In her examination of MoMA, Pindell writes that “out of 242 exhibitions listed, there were two one-person exhibitions by artists of color; both were film/video presentations, representing 0.82% of the total program.” MoMA did not respond to Pindell’s second request for demographics, but most of their exhibition records are now available online. In 2016, 59% of shows (22 out of 37) were for white artists. However, most of these were part of MoMA’s shorter “Projects” or “Inbox” series, which is why I believe a closer examination of run-time (or even the size of a show) is important in gathering these demographics.


In her first round of research, Pindell points out that a number of group shows, such as Printed Art Since 1965 (1985), have very few artists of color despite having a high number of artists represented. This show was 93% white, with only seven artists of color out of 107 in the show.5 She writes that her “experience has been that group exhibitions are 90–100% white artists with occasional exceptions. Native American artists are usually excluded.”6 These group shows, characterized by their seemingly innocuous titles and exhibition themes, persist in the museums I looked at—MoMA, the Met, and the Brooklyn Museum. There have, however, been a few more group shows devoted to artists of color than before, though further examination is needed.

The MoMA show, From the Collection: 1960–1969, had, according to the checklist, two Middle Eastern, seven Asian, four Hispanic, and three Black artists, for a total of 16 artists of color out of 183 artists in the show. It was 91% white. At the Met, Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video was 96% white, with only one artist of color—Manuel Álvarez-Bravo—out of the 28 in the show.7 Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play included the work of 20 artists, which were all (100%) white and male.8 There were also shows like Poetry and Devotion in Indian Painting: Two Decades of Collecting, which was comprised entirely of artists of color, specifically Southeast Asian artists. At the Brooklyn Museum, Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, featured 170 artists. The breakdown for this show was 93% white: 157 White, one Middle Eastern, five Hispanic, and seven Black.

  • 1

    Howardena Pindell. The Heart of the Question: The Writings and Paintings of Howardena Pindell (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1997), 9.

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  • 2

    Ibid., 9.

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  • 3

    Ibid., 11.

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  • 4

    Ibid., 26.

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  • 5

    Ibid., 12.

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  • 6

    Ibid., 9.

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  • 7

    What I have pointed out about this show as being particularly insidious is that while no black artists or women artists of color were represented, the header image is a photograph of a black woman sleeping in a photograph by Paul Graham (a white, male artist).

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  • 8

    This show, too, claimed to span from the 19th century to the present, but did not include any artists of color or subjects of color, de-racializing the theme of crime entirely in this exhibit.

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