I recently had the pleasure of attending the Young Women in the Arts intimate roundtable discussion. Spearheaded by the brilliant Marilyn Minter and hosted by Sarah Cascone of artnet News, Katya Khazei of Arthena, and Molly Krause of Molly Krause Communications, the event was centred around the gender gap in the art world. Further attendees included cross-media artist Emma Sulkowicz; Pulse Art Fair founder, and co-founder and principal at Allen Cooper Enterprises, Helen Allen; and Anne Spalter, artist and founder of RISD’s original digital fine arts program.
Often in a space filled with such influence, I tend to be one of the only women in the room and made to feel like a pork sausage at a bar mitzvah, but on this occasion there were over twenty of us. Anticipation and whispers that a founder of the Guerrilla Girls was attending fueled an atmosphere of empowerment and fostered connections.
I was initially hesitant to attend an event where men were not allowed, as I fear this creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ vibe, which, at first the conversation proved entirely correct – there was frustration shared towards the supposedly cruel, unphased enemy: men. Personally, I find this generalization troublesome; it only further detaches men from the feminist movement. That said, it was so much more than what was expected. I revelled in being a part of such a thought provoking talk, and would even insist that it be conducted weekly.
Compelling points were made regarding the gender gap in the art world, which to this day is still a major issue. When asked in a survey by artnet news whether the gender gap in the art world still existed, Marilyn Minter retaliated “Is the Pope Catholic?”. In 2000, the Guggenheim had zero solo shows by women, while in 2014, just 14% of solo exhibitors were female. Jerry Saltz orchestrated a survey on the September 2014 issue of ArtForum and found that only 15% of the gallery shows advertised were promoting female solo shows. If this wasn’t offensive enough, turning attention to auction records, it’s a similar story of unbalance. Georgia O’Keeffe, the top selling female artist sold her piece, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, for a mere $44.4 million in comparison to Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger painting, which fetched a staggering $179.4 million in a Christie’s auction. With the facts clearly stated and commonly understood, the question is how do we foster positive change?
Perhaps the change starts by supporting one another as women. Minter spoke of her generation’s lack of unity and how they were actually notorious for putting each other down. She is of the opinion that this may be due to the fact that the majority of collectors in the present day are men in their 50s and 60s – their mothers were housewives. It is imperative that our generation be the ones to change this formality. In Minter’s time, Joan Mitchell supported the notion of ‘women supporting women’ so much so that she would invite female students to go and live with her in the south of France. Unfortunately, Mitchell didn’t have the sisterhood at her disposal that exists today, women didn’t cooperate in the same way we do now. If you succeeded in something back then, you were stripping another women of that opportunity, there was no sense of ‘together, we can do this’.
Female collectors are certainly there, but we need to actively encourage a new breed of collector that supports female artists. As Minter puts it, we have the potential to really create power through networks, by welcoming each other and by truly working together. With perseverance and focus, we can combat the grey areas. Many women in Minter’s generation had no idea of the force we could create when undivided, herself included.
Competition is ingrained in us, but in order to narrow the gender gap, this survival of the fittest mentality must stop. Praise is warranted when a fellow female or male succeeds, not a shrug of the shoulder or a look of jealousy. Twenty minutes into the critique, the solution to the question was becoming clear. Being present in a room of trail blazers in the art world, the hunger for equality is apparent and merited. We are not in a state of starvation, but this is far from a royal banquet. Is there a way to speed up the process toward equality and acceptance? I was curious to question what the changing point for these women in their careers was – the defining moment for Minter was a mixture of occurrences, including the internet opening up access to imagery that people were no longer afraid of. We can look back at the ‘scandalous’ events in 1989 and hardly bat an eyelid; you name it we’ve seen it. The shock factor has been exhausted to such a degree that nothing surprises us anymore, this works in our favor. New media and digital technology was untested then.
Outside of the Western world, women in the Middle East, who are quite often associated with having very little or no power in a man’s world, are to our surprise leading the way (as noted by an attendee we’re talking about the very western vernacular). In places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a lot of collectors are female, the decision makers are women and furthermore a lot of the gallery owners are, yes you guessed it, women. A similar trend is clear in Lagos too, women supporting one another often translates to success. Men are less involved, allowing us to band together. It could be argued that this is due to art being treated more as a craft initially, which ultimately enabled women to claim it and create a force that is now hard to be reckoned with.
As we’ve said before, it’s time to dismantle the patriarchy and use our beauty and strength to face this misogynist culture. There’s a subconcious fear of sexuality, a fear of women; a result of misunderstanding. Moving forward, perhaps men SHOULD be invited to attend these events in an attempt to greaten the sphere of influence. There will always be a Coco Chanel and a Cindy Sherman, but as Minter notes, “how many female chefs can you name over male, how many female photographers over male?”. Now is the time to celebrate women and support our greatness across all industries.
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