This splashy stop on the art world circuit is often described as a snapshot of contemporary practices. But how closely does this year’s Venice Biennale reflect the state of the art world today (let alone the wider world)? We’ve crunched the numbers and demographics of the Biennale’s central exhibition, “Viva Arte Viva,” curated by Christine Macel, to provide a handy breakdown of the 120 participating artists and collectives.
The gender breakdown of this edition is roughly similar to 2015’s, though women artists are marginally less well-represented, comprising 35% of the participants (the tally was 37% in 2015, including those who participated in collectives). The Venice Biennale’s cohort of women artists has dipped and wavered over the past few editions: A decent 43% in 2009 dropped to a pretty shameful 26% in 2013.
But as the stat-collecting firebrands the Guerrilla Girls are quick to note: “No major international exhibition of contemporary art has achieved gender parity.” Here’s hoping that Venice can smash its own glass ceiling by the 2029 edition.
While the Venice Biennale is certainly a global affair, it still skews toward certain obvious geographic centers. Europe and North America continue to dominate, as they did in 2015. Of the artists in this year’s central exhibition, “Viva Arte Viva,” 61% hail from one of the two continents (at 41%, Europe is still the most common place of origin). Asia makes a stronger showing at this biennial, though, up to 24%.
The racial demographics of the 2017 Venice Biennale are disheartening, especially given the ongoing debates about diversity in the art world, and the vocal activism of groups like Black Lives Matter. More than half of the participating artists are white. A mere five artists are black. Most strikingly, there is a single black woman artist in “Viva Arte Viva”: Senga Nengudi.
Around three out of every 10 artists in the exhibition are making a return to the Biennale. Some have had their work showcased in the national pavilions—like Francis Upritchard, seen in New Zealand’s pavilion in 2009.
But for roughly 70% of the roster, it’s their Venice Biennale debut. That goes for one of the most unexpected names on the list: film director, visual artist, and all-around acerbic wit John Waters.
This year’s Biennale is definitely not youth-obsessed: Only three artists are under the age of 30. (That includes Swiss artist Julian Charrière, and the Filipina duo of Katherine Nuñez—the youngest participant, born in 1992—and Issay Rodriguez.)
The oldest artists in the exhibition are American Anna Halprin (born in 1920) and Cuban Zilia Sánchez (born 1926), known for her bulging, bodily paintings. And some 10% of the artists featured in “Viva Arte Viva” are deceased.
A large share of the artists taking part in the Biennale are solidly in the typical mid-career age range, with over 40% between the ages of 41 and 60.