Gender-biased art? Oh, it’s all they were talking about in the pub…

Government accused of ‘institutional’ gender bias in art acquisitions – headline in yesterday’s Guardian

Oh, we nipped to our local last night and that’s all anyone was talking about.

Wall to wall chat about gender bias in art acquisitions. That pub has acquired a few pieces of its own, mostly a random selection of non-valuable domestic antiques placed on a high shelf in the front room. A shoe last, old tins – that sort of thing.

Sometimes you read a newspaper story and think, “That’s interesting/outrageous/bloody typical…” And sometimes you read a story and think, “Oh, really?”

This one hit the “Oh, really?” snare-drum for me.

According to research by Labour, three-quarters of works acquired in recent years were by men. These are works bought or donated to be displayed in government buildings around the world. The shadow culture team calculates that 265 works by men and only 80 by women were collected over the five years from 2011-12 to 2015-16.

This one calls for the intervention of that important public body I invented the other day, the Chartered Institute of Well You Don’t Say. A spokesman for the institute said: “This is all very well, but perhaps the Labour Party should look to its own gender bias. While the Tories have managed two female leaders, Labour has produced precisely none.”

That spokesman is right, of course. Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May – or Mrs Hacksaw and Mrs Maybe, to give them their proper names – might not be to all tastes, but at least they were trusted with leading their party and country. Two-nil to the Conservatives on that one.

For what it’s worth, my money would be on Emily Thornberry, who seems smart, combative and up for a scrap.

But back for that gender-biased art collection. Kevin Brennan, the shadow arts minister, said: “Female artists are at least as talented as their male counterparts and the government should be setting an example by getting rid of the institutionalised bias in their acquisitions.”

A good point – up to a point. Happy to agree with every word of that, but surely there are more important things to worry about, greater gender battles to be fought. A government culture talking head contacted by the Guardian said: “The government art collection is a strong supporter of women artists…blah, blah, blah.”

You know, just the sort of slippery thing spokesmen-and-women are always saying: “Yes, we may not have a leg to stand on, but we are perfectly capable of walking on our hands.”

“Labour says 70% of recent purchases by male artists,” according to a sub-heading on yesterday’s story. Well, yes – “And nought per cent of Labour leaders have ever been women” replied the sub-heading in my head.

The spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Well You Don’t Say would like to have a final word: “Perhaps the Labour Party should spend a bit more time trying to come up with a policy on Brexit, rather than standing back and letting the Tories make a mess of it. What exactly is Labour’s policy on Brexit? Heaven only knows. Sitting there with a self-satisfied and yet gnomic smirk while the Tories tear chunks out of each other doesn’t really cut the mustard as a policy, does it?”

And here is a closing thought. Should any women artists have wandered on to this ledge, you really do have my support. It’s just that the Labour Party should be fighting more important gender battles than this one. And that Brexit canvas really has nothing on it but a scribble or two.

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