Is Saatchi Gallery’s All-Female Exhibition Really a Step in the Right Direction?

Popping the bubble on "Champagne Life."

Soheila Sokhanvari, Moje Sabz (2011). Photo: Saatchi Gallery.
Julia Wachtel, Champagne Life (2014). Photo: Saatchi Gallery.

Julia Wachtel, Champagne Life (2014).
Photo: Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

On January 13, Saatchi Gallery will open “Champagne Life,” its first all-female exhibition, featuring work by 14 artists including Julia Wachtel, Julia Dault, Stephanie Quayle, and Alice Anderson.

The show’s title, taken from a work by Wachtel that features images of Minnie Mouse alongside Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, is a tongue-in-cheek riff on the pop-focused glamour of the contemporary art world that often obscures the very real struggles and sacrifices of artists. Indeed, the only thing that appears to unite the diverse group is that they are all women.

“I do think in much more insidious ways things would have happened differently in my career if I was a man,” Wachtel told the Guardian. “Male artists are taken more seriously. While one might say it’s problematic to have a show of just women artists, because we don’t have a show advertised as exclusively male, the statistics speak for themselves.”

According to data compiled by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 51% of artists working today are female, while just 28% of museum solo exhibitions in the 2000’s were dedicated to female artists. And while women earn half of the MFAs granted in the United States, only a quarter of New York gallery exhibitions feature women.

Soheila Sokhanvari, Moje Sabz (2011). Photo: Saatchi Gallery.

Soheila Sokhanvari, Moje Sabz (2011).
Photo: Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Women-only shows have been especially trendy as of late, with the aptly-named “No Man’s Land” at the Rubell Family Collection serving as one of the highlights of Miami Art Week, and Newark-based Gateway Project Spaces garnering attention for their showcase of feminist artworks this September. While few are debating the persistence of the art world glass ceiling, it’s tough to stomach all-female shows as the best answer to the problem.

Creating pink ghettos within the art world—rather than simply making a conscious effort to include a diverse group of artists in all exhibitions—simply furthers the nasty perception problem that work created by a woman is somehow inherently different from that created by a man.

After generations of boundary-pushing, record-breaking female artists—from Joan Mitchell and Yoko Ono to the Guerilla Girls and Tracey Emin—the fact that there are still group shows based around the simple idea that all the participants are the same gender is both stunning and patronizing. As artist and critic Claudia Massie wrote last year a review of the Scottish National Gallery’s “Modern Scottish Woman” exhibition for The Spectator, “the depressing thing is not that shows like [this one] exist. It’s that they need to exist.”

Jelena Bulajic, Ljubica (2012). Photo: Saatchi Gallery.

Jelena Bulajic, Ljubica
Photo: Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

It’s great that Saatchi Gallery, one of the most well-respected institutions in London, has decided to champion the work of female artists. But, according to Gallery Talley, of the more than 500 artists in the gallery’s collection, two thirds are male. Rather than simply highlighting the gender of the artists featured in “Champagne Life,” why not feature them in a group show based on something a bit more nuanced?

Champagne Life” will be on display at Saatchi Gallery from January 13–March 6, 2016. 

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