The Sexist Art World in 2009 – artmarketblog.com
In 1989 a group of anonymous feminist art world activists, who called themselves the Guerrilla Girls, created a poster that asked the question “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”. Below this question it was stated that “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female”. Unfortunately, since 1989 things have not improved much at all. This poster was re-created by the Guerilla Girls for the 2005 Venice Biennale with the same image but different text. The 2005 Venice Biennale poster read “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” then below was “Less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83% of the nudes are female”. See the difference?. Yes, the number of female artists in the Modern Art sections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art had actually reduced in the 15 years between the original poster, and the re-assessment of the collection conducted by the Guerrilla Girls in the fall of 2004. Not only had the percentage of works by women artists gone down but the percentage of nudes that are of females went down as well. This means that there are now more male nudes than there were which I am not sure whether to be pleased about or not.
It is quite obvious that we have a long way to go. Consider the fact that up until 1986 H.W. Janson’s famous ‘History of Art’ textbook did not include any female artists. When questioned in 1979 about the lack of female artists in his textbook, Janson said that he couldn’t find a female artist who he thought belonged in a one volume book on the history of art. As a comparison I looked through the textbook that I was required to use when I completed by Bachelor of Arts (Art History and Criticism) degree from 2001-2003. My copy of E.H.Gombrich’s ‘The Story of Art’ was printed in 1995 and has a sticker on the front of it that states that over 6,000,000 copies of the book have sold which makes it “The World’s Best Selling Art Book”. Okay, so how does the world’s best selling art book rate when it comes to recognising female artists?. I would love to be able to say that it rates well but not surprisingly it rates extremely poorly. Out of all the images in the book there was only one I could find that was by a women artists – an image of a lithograph titled ‘Need’ by Kathe Kollwitz. I haven’t had a chance to re-read the whole book to see how many female artists are featured in the book but at the present time it seems that Kathe Kollwitz is the only one.
What about the commercial sector?. Brainstormers, A New York Based art collective that aims to highlight the gross gender inequities in the contemporary New York Art, has a website called the Brain Stormers Report which provides information relating to their cause. One section of the website titled “Top 30 Offenders 2008” has screen shots of the websites of the 30 NY commercial galleries that have the lowest percentage of female artists as of May 2008. You can take a look at the rather disappointing stats here:
It would be unfair to suggest that there hasn’t been any progress on the issue of gender inequality in the art world because there has. There are many museums that have increased the number of works by female artists in their collections such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris. In fact, the Pompidou Centre is currently holding a year long exhibition of works by 200 female artists from the 20th and 21st centuries. According to the director of the centre’s modern art collections, no museum has ever done this before – a fact that is disturbing to say the least. Also hopping on the female artist bandwagon is the UK’s Walker Art Gallery which is holding an exhibition titled “The Rise of Women Artists – From 16th century to present day” from the 23 October 2009 to 14 March 2010. According to the press release for the exhibition: “The exhibition traces the historical changes affecting women, looking at their status and careers as they moved to assert themselves as artists in their own right”.
Although there are institutions that do deserve to be recognised for at least making some effort to correct the imbalance, the overall rate of progress has been abysmal to say the least especially when it comes to the cultural sector. I have plenty more to say on this issue to stay tuned.
To be continued…………
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.