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The Second Sex Of The Art Market

Female Artists Heavily Underrepresented In German Galleries


In the context of our national study on contemporary art galleries in Germany, Berlin-based Institute for Strategy Development (IFSE) conducted a survey amongst contemporary art galleries and analyzed their economic and cultural role as well as the structure of artists they represent. We estimate a total number of 700 contemporary art galleries in Germany, representing over 11,000 artists in total. During our research, we enquired about the gender distribution of artists represented by each gallery. The findings are striking: only 25 percent of all represented artists in German galleries are female; 75 percent male. But this is not only a purely German phenomenon.

There is a gender bias in the art field just as in other any other area like work or politics. Even though German administrative organs have introduced ‘equal opportunity commissioners’ (Gleichstellungsbeauftragte) about a decade ago, gender equality is still on its way. With regards to the art world, we find a Wikipedia entry for ‘Women artists’, but none for ‘Male artists’. This circumstance illustrates how gender in the art world is officially neutral, but implicitly male. Does this mean that women are structurally discriminated in the art field? How does this discrimination manifest itself? And what scope of action results from this situation?

The paradox about the discourse on ‘women in art’ is that, with this discussion, we are enhancing the position of women as women, thus emphasizing their biological sex over their artistic accomplishments. Some female gallerists[1] or emerging female artists experience a sort of ‘positive discrimination’ in that they are receiving a lot of attention and visibility in the media exactly because they are women. The downside of being a woman in the art world is that women receive less prestigious posts and that women artists earn less with their artistic work. In our study on the situation of artists living and working in Berlin, Studio Berlin II, published in 2011, our survey results showed that only 14 percent of female artists can fully cover their living costs through their artistic work. In contrast, 35 percent of male artists can fully sustain themselves with their selling their artwork. But the condition of female artists in other locations of art isn’t much better: recently published East London Fawcett Art Audit conducted a study amongst 134 London-based commercial galleries. They found that 31 percent of all 3,163 represented artists are female. 78 percent of the galleries represent more men than women, 16 percent of the galleries have a male representation over 80 percent. Only 17 percent of London galleries represent more females than males.

To be represented by a gallery on a long-term basis is a long and stony path for artists that can take years, sometimes decades, to be accomplished. Older and more established artists often work as gatekeepers introducing young talents to the ‘right crowd’. This selection through formal and informal networks plays a decisive role in the art world. While are there are considerably more explicit ‘female’ networks in the (German) art scene like Ruhr-District-based Frauen und Kunst, Goldrausch Künstlerinnenprojekt art IT from Berlin or Düsseldorfer Künstlerinnen, males organize in informal networks, too. However, they are rarely officially labeled as a ‘male only’ clubs, appearing less focused on gender.

However, the impulse to create more exclusively ‘female’ networks, which had been advocated already ten years ago by the former President of the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz), Doris Ahnen, on the one hand bears the risk of further intensifying the gap between the genders and might only increase the cohesion within a network of females. On the other hand, an increased number of female gallerists, curators, museum directors and art academy professors might take the chance to enhance the visibility of female artists and their positions. Without dismissing gender-specific networks, the ambivalence to such organizations should be borne in mind, as some females themselves feel stigmatized or dismissed to an exclusively ‘female’ realm.

‘Where Are All The Women?’

The famous essay with the above title by art critic Jerry Saltz asks exactly the right question. Women are in the art academies, but afterwards, are never seen again. Both art academies in Berlin have had over 55 percent women in all disciplines for the past five years. At the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK), 58 percent of all graduates in 2011 were female[2]; at the Academy of Fine and Applied Arts Berlin-Weißensee (KHB) it was even higher (63.8 percent)[3]. These figures are similar in the UK.[4]

But what is the reason for skilled female artists being so gravely underrepresented in galleries? Are women lacking the entrepreneurial spirit to ‘sell themselves’ in the art market? Are they less convincing at embodying the image of the genius artist? Or is it because mostly (white, heterosexual) men are buying art and want to buy art from their peers?

One possible answer to these questions lies in the same issues that women face in other work fields today: to always be available and ready for action, which is nearly impossible for (single) mothers thanks to the current condition of childcare in Germany. As a consequence, female artists might be more ‘difficult’ for a gallery to work with. Within the next years, we will see whether the ratio of female artists represented in galleries will increase and whether conditions of flexible and inclusive childcare will continue to develop.

Now, this whole debate is not about categorically pushing art from women. It is about pointing to the current conditions of artistic production and presentation that female and male artists are working with. And those are out of balance. Of course, ‘female’ networks and mentoring of older female artists can help young women artists to professionalize and develop their careers. At the same time, male artists, too, should prove that they acknowledge great artistic skills over gender and support young female positions if they are worth it. Because the art world has a logic of its own, it should intervene and challenge existing hierarchies and patterns of discrimination rather than reproduce them.

German Contemporary Fine Art Galleries 2013 - A first empirical national study on the economic situation and cultural role of art galleries in Germany with a focus on contemporary art:

[1] The research conducted in the context of our study also revealed a gender imbalance with regards to gallery owners: 38 percent of German gallerists are female, 62 percent male.

[2] Universität der Künste: Leistungsbericht 2011, 12.

[3] weißensee kunsthochschule berlin: Leistungsbericht 2011, 12.

[4] The White Review: Redressing the Balance: Women in the Art World