Art Market

Do Women Dealers Represent More Women Artists?

Kim Hart and Anna Louie Sussman
Dec 5, 2017 11:16PM

What would the world look like if more women were in charge?

An Artsy analysis comparing the artist rosters of the 199 female-run and male-run galleries showing at the 16th edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach provides one clue. Dealers who are women are 28% more likely to show artists who are women.

The gender breakdown of artists listed on the websites of the 126 male-run galleries showing at Art Basel in Miami Beach is 75% male artists to 25% female artists, a ratio of three to one. Female-run galleries show 66% male artists and 34% female artists, a ratio of two to one. The overall share is 72% male and 28% female artists. (See below for a full description of the methodology.)

Dealers rarely, if ever, cite gender (or ethnicity, or nationality, or any other marker of identity) as a factor in deciding to represent an artist. That notion is almost universally rejected; it’s always and inevitably about “the strength of the work.” But the findings of this analysis lend some credence to the aphorism, sometimes attributed to female leadership expert Laura Liswood, that “There’s no such thing as a glass ceiling, just a thick layer of men.”

The larger the number of artists in a gallery’s stable, the less likely female artists are to be represented (and the less likely it is that the dealer herself is female). And at every size, women dealers represent more female artists than their male counterparts. The 14 male-run galleries with over 50 artists represent just 15% female artists, while the six female-run galleries of over 50 artists showed 25% women. At the smaller end, the 16 male-run galleries participating in Art Basel with 15 or fewer artists had 31% female artists on their roster; the seven female-run galleries of the same size had 39% female artists.

London dealer Pilar Corrias said those figures made sense, since mega-galleries of that size are dealing with artists at the very top end of the market, who tend to still be largely male.

“When you get to the $10 million, $20 million levels, that’s where the disparity comes…when that amount of money is at stake, politics go out the window,” she said.

Among all the galleries in the analysis, the share of their artists who are women ranged from zero to two-thirds. Of the five galleries who represented exclusively artists who are men, four (including two dealers whose rosters boast 49 and 86 artists, respectively) are run by men. These galleries tend to specialize in earlier art-historical periods when all opportunities for women, not just in art, were far more restricted.

As the late art historian and scholar Linda Nochlin described it in her famous 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”: “[I]n actuality, as we all know, things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and, above all, male.”

But what’s the excuse for contemporary dealers, when, for example, women in the U.S. (still the largest art market in the world, per UBS and Art Basel’s The Art Market | 2017) are far more likely than men to graduate with arts degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level, according to data from the U.S. Education Department?

“A lot of women artists get lost along the way.”

Corrias, whose gallery turns 10 years old next year, said part of the problem was structural, in that the crucial stage for an artist’s career tends to coincide with the time when women have children.

“Artists tend to start becoming successful in their late twenties and thirties, and it’s also the time when women have children,” Corrias said. “It’s very hard if you’re a young artist who’s beginning to make a way for yourself to then suddenly get pregnant and have to deal with childcare. It’s all about money, really, and whether you can afford the childcare or not. So that’s why a lot of women artists get lost along the way.” She noted that female dealers also tend to open their galleries in their thirties and forties, once the most demanding years of childrearing are behind them.

(Interestingly, one study found that female artists don’t tend to experience the wage loss upon motherhood, relative to men, that is a major factor of the overall gender pay gap and has been called by sociologist Michelle Budig calls “the motherhood penalty.” That said, women working in the arts still earn less than men, according to research from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project at Indiana University.)

“Being an artist is not something where you can just go on maternity leave…[artists who are women] can take a break, but nobody will make their work for them,” said Corrias, whose 25-strong roster is 56% female. “You can work for a company and go on maternity leave, and someone will cover for you.”

Corrias said as a dealer (and as a parent herself), she accepts and encourages her artists to become parents, with the understanding that it’s a temporary period in what hopefully should be a long and fruitful career path that she and her artists are building together.

“With the artists that I show who are women, I’m as encouraging as I possibly can be, and I understand they’ll be taking a break, and then they’ll be coming back,” she said. She recalled a (perhaps apocryphal) story she heard, about a major London dealer who told women he represented, “If you have children, I’m going to drop you.” It’s hard to imagine his male artists received the same warning, even though men become parents at roughly the same rate as women (science!).

Still, many artists who are women and parents told Artsy last year that motherhood, while a logistical challenge that any working parent must navigate, has not impacted their career.

Geographic disparity

Interestingly, North American dealers in the sample on the whole tended to have slightly better representation of female artists than their European counterparts, even though the U.S. (where all but three of the North American dealers in our sample are located) is the only advanced economy that does not offer paid family leave or even paid maternity leave to its citizens. European Union countries all offer at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, and many offer considerably more generous benefits, including subsidized child care, which one might expect would give female artists in Europe slightly more support as they transition into parenthood.

But the artist roster for female North American dealers is split 36% female to 64% male, while at their European counterparts, the balance tipped slightly more male, at 30% to 70%. Male North American dealers’ rosters are 73% male, while European male dealers are, again, a slightly higher 76% male.

Several dealers said that galleries’ more equal representation of women in the U.S. could also be due to the number of powerful female collectors, museum board members, and trustees in the country, citing Beth Rudin deWoody and Agnes Gund as two prominent examples.

A gallery is “an extension of the person who runs it and owns it”

In addition to the day-to-day realities that shape women’s and men’s careers differently, several female dealers with above-average representation of female artists said they thought the disparity between who women and men represent could be attributed to a personal or intangible factor.

Nicole Russo, who founded Chapter NY on the Lower East Side three and a half years ago, never consciously sought to build a program that was predominantly women (six out of her nine artists are women), but to the extent that “any gallery is an extension of the person who runs it and owns it,” the outcome wasn’t altogether surprising.

“Hey, I’m a feminist. I’m going to subconsciously or consciously spend time looking at women artists…and it organically came about that the roster is more women artists,” Russo said. “Obviously, I think all my artists are amazing, and they’re all people I want to help and be a part of their careers in any way that I can.”

Vienna dealer Rosemarie Schwarzwälder of Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder nodded to the flipside of that equation. “Not to fall into clichés, because it’s what you always hear, but I think the alliance between men is always very strong,” she said. “You yourself as a journalist may realize that maybe with your women colleagues it’s easier. This is a psychological or sociological question.”

Schwarzwälder said her gallery through the 1980s did not represent a very high share of female artists (today it is 43% female), although she always showed women, even if they were represented by another gallery. In subsequent decades she began adding more women, which she stressed was not out of a conscious effort to seek out more women, but often through finding women artists whose work had previously been overlooked. She cited the discovery about five years ago, through the collector JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey, of the artist and poet Alice Attie, now in her late sixties. Of course, she said, that always raises the question: “Why was this overlooked?”

A “trend of looking back”

At New York’s Salon 94, partner and director Alissa Friedman said when she joined nearly 11 years ago, her early conversations with founder Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn were less about an artist’s gender and more about whether that person was underappreciated.

“I don’t remember having a conversation about whether someone was a man or a woman, it was more about whether someone was interesting, or who was underrepresented,” Friedman said.

Those underrepresented artists were, quite often, women, thanks to the cumulative impact of society-wide disadvantage faced by pretty much everyone who wasn’t a straight white man. Using that criteria—“artists who had been working for 20 years, had had a career, but for whatever reason were underrecognized, typically commercially, or in some cases critically or institutionally,” as Friedman described it—led her and Rohatyn to artists such as Marilyn Minter and Laurie Simmons. The gallery also recently added iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago to its roster.

“I’d say it’s evolved organically, and we’ve also developed more consciousness about it,” Friedman said. Now, “We embrace it, and we talk about it. We’re a strong gallery for women artists.”

Friedman noted their approach has been more widely adopted, as dealers around the world seek to unearth overlooked or underappreciated artists among the many who were excluded from mainstream success in their time.

“There’s also a trend of looking back, and trying to discover an artist who has been overlooked until now or who had their moment in the late 1970s,” Friedman said. “There is this attempt to broaden our understandings of artmaking, and how it has been marketed…so in that way, women have gotten maybe more attention” in the past few years.

“Things will change”

But what does that mean for younger artists, who, of course, aren’t eligible for “rediscovery”?

Although Salon 94 doesn’t work with emerging artists, Friedman said from her observation, she believes it is probably more difficult for young women to make their names as artists, due to the ongoing myth of the wunderkind artist, who throughout history (including recent history) has typically been male.

“I think that the art world still kind of celebrates and mythologizes this idea of the ‘bad boy artist,’” she said, noting that with a few exceptions, “especially when you’re talking about the hot artist that everyone’s speculating on, they tend to be male.”  But, she added, “as the baton is handed to the next generation, there are increasingly more women who are getting attention and whose prices reflect that,” citing the growing presence of women at the helm of major museums as another factor that should help female artists succeed.

There’s plenty of reason to think things will improve. The younger the gallery, the more likely it was to have female leadership, according to Artsy’s analysis. In the sample of galleries showing at Art Basel in Miami Beach, only galleries 10 years and younger were equally represented between female and male leadership, at 17 apiece. By contrast, among galleries 10 to 20 years old and older than 20 years, there were roughly twice as many run by men as by women.

The younger the gallery, the more balanced its gender ratio, the analysis showed. The younger male-run galleries had 32% female artists, compared with just 23% at galleries more than 20 years old. The younger female-run galleries did even better, with 41% female artists; at the older female-run galleries, the share of female artists was 28%.

Corrias, who is in her forties, said the art world has changed dramatically from the one she studied as a teenager or college student.

“The art market was pretty much dominated by white male artists until about 20 years ago,” she said, noting that art world’s dominant “center” has been fragmented into “many centers” around the world.

In the meantime, “it’s just a question of keeping going, it’s not a fait accompli,” she said. “But if you believe in the work and support it and keep selling it, then things will change.”

Kim Hart
Anna Louie Sussman

Methodology: These figures were compiled using the galleries from the 2017 exhibitor list at Art Basel in Miami Beach, within the Galleries, Nova, Positions, and Survey sectors. If a gallery was determined to be all-female or all-male owned, we analyzed its current roster based on information provided on its website. If a gallery only listed artists with “works for sale,” and did not specify whether those artists were represented by the gallery, then those artists were counted. If there was a roster and “works by” other artists, only artists on the roster were counted. If an artist duo or group consisted of artists all of the same gender, the duo/group was counted once. However, if the duo/group had members of more than one gender, each member was counted individually. For example, when analyzing Lisson Gallery’s roster, the all-male duo Broomberg & Chanarin was counted as one male artist, while the female/male duo Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla was counted twice, as one female and one male artist. Further, if a gallery represented a large, mixed-gender collective with more than a dozen members, it was not counted in the gallery’s final total to keep the math as sensical and true to reality as possible. Finally, if an artist identifies as gender-non-conforming, they were counted in the gallery’s final total, but not as male or female. Trans artists were counted according to the gender with which they identify. The research was conducted between September 28, 2017, and November 29, 2017.

Cover image: Portrait of Alissa Friedman. Photo by Raul Tovar. Courtesy of Alissa Friedman.