We Asked 20 Women ‘Is the Art World Biased?’ Here’s What They Said.
Lisa Dennison, RoseLee Goldberg, and Maria Baibakova come clean about sexism.
artnet News has noticed that bias, both conscious and unconscious, is, well, rampant throughout the world—down the hall, across the street, on the other side of that cubicle partition. It’s in the umpteenth exhibition not featuring a woman. It’s in the evening auction whose top winners are, well, male. It’s in art schools the world over, germinating and putting down roots.
As is the case with other creative industries, the art world is presented as a profession where women (and men) can be whoever they want to be and can make money. But is that the truth? Can they come as they are and be welcomed as worthy competitors and adversaries? (See: “Art World Bias by the Numbers.”)
What to do? We canvassed women collectors, dealers, curators, advisers, and artists to find out their responses to the question “Is the Art World Biased?”
Probably [there is bias], if one looks at the data about the number of women museum directors, pay scales and salaries, maternity leave. But it’s also interesting that many of the most exciting organizations that give New York City its extraordinary texture, that nurture generation after generation of emerging artists, and that contribute so significantly to making this city the inimitable cultural capital of the world, are run by women (as are several of the great enduring galleries). It says something about women’s visionary approach to shaping culture, their determination to make things happen in spite of the system or the conventions of institutions. Theirs is a kind of emancipation that is deeply felt, and which they act upon day after day. They ask no one’s permission to do what they do. Sexism doesn’t stand a chance.
—RoseLee Goldberg, Founder, Performa
The fact that we are still having this conversation is a strong indicator that women are discriminated against in the art world, as they are in many other sectors of our society. Women artists are underrepresented in museum collections and galleries today, as they have been historically. And, as reported by the New York Times last March, women run just a quarter of the biggest art museums in the US and Canada and earn less than a third of their male counterparts. The question is, of course: Is there a longstanding bias against women artists and art professionals, or have women not had the time and support to grow their careers in the face of societal challenges, including raising families or outright sexism?
—Lisa Dennison, Chairman, Sotheby’s North and South America; Former Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
I labor under the notion that when a society does not have gender equality, then none of the structures within it are egalitarian either. Unsavory personal experiences aside, sexism, I think, is made most visible in some statistical details: Over 50 percent of art school graduates are women but far less than 50 percent of monographic exhibition subjects are women. I’ve been lucky enough to work only under women directors but all the institutions they inherited had an annual budget of $15 million or less, which is the glass ceiling of female women directorships. Sexism is a broad problem that cannot be reduced to simply men oppressing women, but is about the set of expectations we have and the goals we set for each other that need serious reevaluation.
—Naomi Beckwith, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
I often find myself sitting in auctions amongst the company of very few women. From a collector’s standpoint, I think the market is unfortunately still largely centered around men.
—Maria Baibakova, Founder, Baibakova Art Projects
Hahaha…Is the Pope Catholic?
—Marilyn Minter, Artist
Simply, capital flow in the art world cannot and will not afford to slow itself for any ethical deliberations on gender equality.
—Michelle Grabner, Artist, 2014 Whitney Biennial Curator
Sadly, I must answer yes. The highest-priced pieces of art continue to be produced only by men. Likewise, none of the art dealers representing these highly valued artists are female.
—Agnès Monplaisir, Galerie Agnès Monplaisir
I feel that there is indeed sexism in the art world. While there are numerous successful gallery owners who nurture female artists, when you look at the auction results, a very small percentage of the records were set by female artists. Jasper Johns, a living male artist, reaches prices of $28.6 million, whereas the highest price for a Joan Mitchell, the top-selling female artist, is only $11.9 million.
—Leila Heller, Leila Heller Gallery
I think that historically, sexism is a lot less apparent than it was 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it has disappeared. I am the second female president of the Art Dealers Association of America after Lucy Mitchell-Innes and I have a gallery with my partner John Van Doren. That’s progress!
—Dorsey Waxter, President, Art Dealers Association of America
When I reflect on the question of sexism, I realize I don’t think of whether someone is male or female; what is most important is that they excel at what they do. And yes . . . whilst there are many more high-profile female gallerists than before and whilst some of the leading artists are now women, sexism is certainly still prevalent in the art world, as it is everywhere. You only need to consider auction results for female artists against male artists. How many biennale directors are male? How many museums, institutions, and foundations are run by men? Who runs the auction houses? Men.
—Pearl Lam, Pearl Lam Galleries
If I look at the objective numbers…Who could deny it? I always hear about new hot male artists. My male artists are typically easier to sell, and I’m one of the only female gallerists in any given fair. But, from a subjective point of view, I don’t feel it. I don’t ever get the impression that I am discriminated against, and there is no opportunity I believe I’ve lost based on my sex… It’s difficult to understand what’s going on when the subjective and objective don’t add up.
—Catinca Tabacaru, Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Despite the vast number of female art professionals working today, when it comes to the most recognizable artists, the majority of the names are still overwhelmingly male. If we do not raise awareness about sexism’s prevalence in our industry, we only perpetuate the issue.
—Doreen Remen, Cofounder, Art Production Fund
Yes, I’m afraid that sexism still exists in today’s art world. It’s what makes organizations like ArtTable—which recognizes, promotes, and celebrates women’s art world leadership and collaboration—of continuing importance. We are currently at a point where 96 percent of the modernist artists shown on museum walls are men (see Guerrilla Girls research), and although there has been a sharp rise in curatorial and administrative positions going to women, and increasing visibility of women art museum directors, it’s hardly a question that we have a long way to go to equity and diversity in the art world.
—Ada Ciniglio, Executive Director, ArtTable
I believe there is a lack of female representation in every segment of the art world—from artists to art dealers and business leaders to art collectors; especially at the top. This is not new and unique to the art world alone. It takes will, focus, and patience to overcome this challenge, but the future is bright. I am an optimist.
—Jinqing Caroline Cai, President, Christie’s China
Yes, sexism is prevalent in the art world, on every level, from museum and gallery management to the number of women artists who get gallery representation to the number of women included in survey shows. Just ask Jerry Saltz if sexism is prevalent in the art world. Long-limbed multi-tongued gallerinas? Perfect example.
—Sue Stoffel, StoffelARTS and Administrative Director, UNTITLED. Art Fair Miami Beach
Though I have never experienced sexism of the Melanie-Griffiths-in-Working-Girl variety, in any field where there are so many women in general and so few women at the top, you have to ask structural questions about why that is. The problem begins with low pay at the entry level, which keeps the workforce less diverse, including in gender. This makes it hard to recognize and champion excellence in individual women. There is a cognitive dissonance in underpaying people that can manifest in valuing them less or instrumentalizing them to the vision of the institution and not to their own future careers.
—Amy Whitaker, President, the Professional Organization for Women in the Arts (POWarts); Art Business Faculty, the Sotheby’s Institute
Although sexism within the art world has improved considerably even within the past 10 years, there are still many more women in the junior ranks than in the senior, and young “hotshots” (artists, curators, etc.) are much more likely to be men than women. One factor in these disparities may be that many women who are on the cusp of senior positions are also of the age when they want to have families, and the societal mechanisms are not in place to support this, especially in the US, with its lack of state-subsidized maternity leave or child care. Additionally, the global nature of today’s art world is not friendly to those with children; few parents wish to leave their children for weeks on end to jet around the world attending art fairs and biennials, or to uproot their families’ lives for a new, more prestigious job in another city or country.
—Alexandra Schwartz, Curator of Contemporary Art, Montclair Art Museum; Steering Committee Member, the Professional Organization for Women in the Arts (POWarts)
Statistics still speak volumes. In almost all group exhibitions, women represent less than 50 percent of the artists, unless the subject of the show is a feminist one. Numbers of women artists still rank low in gallery rosters, across the world—this is not an isolated issue. The same men, time and time again, are still recruited to run the major biennials and institutions. Gender equality in the arts should be easy: Make shows/galleries/biennials/institutions at least 50 percent women.
—Sarah McCrory, Director, Glasgow International
As a pioneering third wave feminist artist, now observing the fourth wave (I count down from Mary Wollstonecraft and her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), from a cursory observation, it still does exist. Even taking into account that the 2010, 2012, and 2013 winners of the Turner Prize were women, in its history since 1984 there have been 24 men to six women receiving the award. On a personal note, in 2013 I was awarded the Northern Art Prize, (known as the Turner Prize of the North). This prize, which doesn’t have an age limit—as in the case of the Turner—so is a non-ageist award, turned into an ageist event anyway. Nearly all the press, including the BBC, responded with the phrase “Pensioner wins the Northern Art Prize.” Now, there had been at least one male artist over the age of 50 (albeit not as old as myself) who had previously won the award, but age was not even discussed. It took the shine off the award [for me], as it intimated that it wasn’t about quality but more about the age of a woman artist. I subsequently was awarded one of the Paul Hamlyn [Foundation Awards for] Artists and there was no mention of age or gender, for which I will be forever grateful.
—Margaret Harrison, Artist
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