Denver Digerati


“conclusions for graphic comparisons of gender discrimination in the art field” from

My curiosity was piqued when I picked up the show card for, Mirage and saw that for the second year in a row, Denver Digerati, with Ivar Zeile at the helm, had awarded all of the Denver Digerati commissions to men. Originally, I intended to review the exhibition and possibly title Mirage, tongue-in-cheek, the “best all boys show.”

Mirage was a companion exhibition mounted at Zeile’s Plus Gallery of related object-based works of the seven artists who were awarded the 2013 commissions for the Denver Digerati program. Denver Digerati is a motion-based program that is part of “the Denver Theatre District (DTD) which is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) created to enhance downtown Denver through public art investment, city and regional art and cultural promotions.” This program is international in scope and funded as a 501c3 with a mix of private and public funding. The seven commissioned artists will be in the permanent collection and be unveiled at the September 20th Friday Flash in Downtown Denver.

I spent quite a bit of time with Zeile at Plus talking about each of the works and artists and the upcoming accompanying Denver Digerati program. Although individually many of the object-based works that were exhibited in Mirage at Plus Gallery are interesting, well wrought, and by artists I respect, overall the exhibition was a bit flat without any real interesting connections nor conversations happening between the works.

Here’s where things get a bit tricky. My Facebook post, of what I thought an innocuous comment and link asking women to apply to the Denver Digerati, was shared. Zeile picked up the post and was obviously offended and defended his choices. The tone is not pretty and these conversations then spilled over onto Art F City. (Here’s the link for the Facebook conversation.)

Regardless of what anyone has said or not said on facebook the critique of the program still holds. I’d like to get the conversation past hurt feelings and back to the essence of critique (which I still don’t think Zeile has heard nor acknowledged).

First- there are currently two gender segregated exhibitions on the Denver Digerati. One of seven men who were awarded commissions and are going into the permanent collection and one of eight women who were only given the exhibition. Second, this is the second year in a row that commissions were awarded to men only.

Third, I completely disagree that a curated exhibition with all men or all women doesn’t somehow touch on gender. In addition, persistently awarding exhibitions, reviews, accolades, and commissions to a set group of artists (male) forms a continual feed towards a certain digital/ new media/ net gender bias.

A quote from artist and curator Sally McKay that I found on Paddy Johnson’s Art F City-

“As a curator in the 21st century, if I put together a show with all one gender (especially a large group show) I have to know that the show is therefore going to be about gender, whether I like it or not. If I do it by accident, then I am missing a big piece of what it is to be a curator. If I do it on purpose, then I have to own it in the curatorial premise of the exhibition. As an artist, if I am curated into an exhibition of all-women then I ask the curator, “Why all women? I don’t identify specifically as a female artist…what is this show really about? Maybe it’s not really the right context for my work.”

Interestingly, while this conversation was happening on Amber Cobb’s page there was an almost simultaneous conversation happening on my own facebook page from the initial share, “Hopefully some women with motion based art apply to this as right now it’s almost all men. I guess women don’t make motion based art?” Chris Coleman posted on this on the thread “Saw the same issue and decided to rectify without marginalizing (aka declaring it).”

Chris Coleman, has really gotten caught in the crossfire on this one. This is the kind of mismanaged blowup that artists like Charlie Sofo* have tried to avoid by declining all-male exhibitions. Well, it also looks good for Sofo. He’s standing up and saying hey, we shouldn’t do this anymore.

Coleman is one of Zeile’s seven commissioned artists, who was invited to curate a month of programming. His exhibition, The World is !Flat featured work by Sabine Gruffatt, Sama Alshaibi, Brianna Lowe, Sara Ludy, Rosa Menkman, Brenna Murphy, Katie Torn and Angela Washko. Of great note (or a sidebar conversation) Chris Coleman curated his exhibition completely off of facebook. He pushed past his social boundaries and asked for recommendations from his “friends.”

The World is !Flat, referencing landscape, is a great effort by Coleman (and geez I love him for it) but, it still ends up segregating the works of men and women. To give him further credit, I think that almost all of the pieces he curated worked very well on the LED big screen format. I especially appreciated the difference in mass, scale, personality and insight between the works of Sama Alshaibi, Brenna Murphy and Katie Torn. His graphics and show titles enhanced the overall effect and were great works themselves.

But, according to the materials on the website, as of this time, there is no mention of a commission for these eight women artists. It’s separate and definitely not equal. Whenever there are awards and commissions there should always be at least an attempt at equity. And- I’m still not sure why there are two gender segregated exhibitions on the Denver Digerati.

Well, Denver artists, you’ve asked me to get real and here it is. I’m a little flabbergasted that we seem to have to have these conversations over and over. If you are tired of hearing about equity~~I’m even more tired of having to point out the discrepancies.

*The Charlie Sofo Conversation

*”Right now a conversation is happening on the BYOB facebook event page for BYOB Melbourne. Artist Charlie Sofo has decided to decline his participation in BYOB Melbourne (Curated by Ry David Bradley and Antuong Nguyen) due to the unequal numbers of female and male artists in yet another poorly devised net-aware exhibition. Charlie, Ry and Antuong have made their correspondence public in order to create a discussion surrounding this issue. I thought it would be important to post it here – Brennan x”

“Charlie Sofo

Ry & Antuong,I’m writing to withdraw my participation in BYOB 2013. It’s taken a bit of thought to come to this conclusion. I’ll briefly outline my reasoning:Firstly, I feel like the show includes significantly more male than female artists. When you exclude the collaborative groups, there are only four individual female artists in comparison to more than 20 individual male artists.Part of my argument has come from the article “Enough With Dude-Centric Net Art Shows” by Paddy Johnson (where she even sites BYOB Milan). In particular, I find this section relevant:”As artist and curator Sally McKay explains: As a curator in the 21st century, if I put together a show with all one gender (especially a large group show) I have to know that the show is therefore going to be about gender, whether I like it or not. If I do it by accident, then I am missing a big piece of what it is to be a curator. If I do it on purpose, then I have to own it in the curatorial premise of the exhibition.”

As far as I can see there has been no curatorial explanation for the inclusion of significantly more males in both the BYOB 2013 and 2011 shows in Melbourne.

If BYOB is about reflecting, charting or representing a certain community (or sensibility?) then I clearly can’t identify with it. If I’m involved in a project that overwhelming represents one gender, then I at least want some reasoning or discussion about that.

Lastly, I would like to post this email on the BYOB facebook page, so there is some visibility – as this is an artistic decision, there should be at least some public acknowledgement. If you’re unhappy with that, perhaps there might some other avenue to make this public?

I have much respect for both of you and for the artists involved in the show. I hope this email is received in the spirit of opening up the subject.


Charlie Sofo.”



  1. I’ve experience several times being the sole person, male or female, to mention a huge lopsided group of people along gender lines, and that feels uncomfortable even though I think gender bias is real and that it matters.
    I’ve listened to woman artists be offended by very similar conversations, who also hate all woman exhibitions, as do I, because they want to be judged as artists first.

    Fight on sister!
    Wish you could shut the fk up

    And then there are all those dead gay artists…. and I just feel a slow soft seeping exhaustion.

  2. I’ve only touched on gender, there’s that whole other diversity thing too that is equally important. We need to be able to speak without wearing a mask or fear of being shamed.

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