Growing hopes for women on the art market? | Arts | DW | 20.04.2018
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Growing hopes for women on the art market?

While feminism is on the rise, fueled by the #MeToo movement, things are slow to change for female artists on the art market. As the Art Cologne art fair is underway, DW takes a look at why that is the case.

Kunstmesse Art Cologne (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg)

"Inspirational Source" by Brigitte Kowanz

"Feminism" was Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2017. Women all over the world demonstrated for their rights. Recognizing the power of the #MeToo movement, TIME magazine picked the "Silence Breakers" who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment as the Person of the Year of 2017.

Women are visibly gaining power worldwide, but what's their current position on the art market? According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. that collects artworks made by women only, 51 percent of all artists are women. So why are women still a minority on the art market?

"We represent a few women, but they only make up one third of the total number," says the Cologne-based gallery owner Anke Schmidt, who frequently attends art fairs like Art Basel and Art Cologne, which takes place this year from April 19-22. Schmidt represents internationally renowned artists — painters, sculptors and photographers. Most of them are men. Was it a conscious decision? "Actually I hadn't paid any attention to it," she says. "But when you start reflecting on the issue, you notice the imbalance — and I also observed that in my own gallery."

Kunstmesse Art Cologne (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg)

"Silence" by John Armleder at the Art Cologne art fair

Do artworks created by women sell as well?

Whether in New York, Berlin or Basel, around two thirds of all galleries represent more men than women. According to a survey carried out by London's Tate Modern, only five percent of professional art merchants pay attention to gender.

Is it harder to sell artworks created by women than those created by men? "Financial aspects play an increasingly important role, especially increases in value," notes Anke Schmidt. "So one will try to predict how the market value of a female artist will develop, given the fact she might have children, and therefore have less time for her work, or her work might change as a result of changes in her personal life." 

For more than 30 years now, women artist activist groups such as the US Guerrilla Girls have decried this discrimination. In their shows, they criticize that collectors tend to pay more money for works created by men than those created by women. Gallery owner Anke Schmidt has also observed the imbalance: "People don't talk openly about this. But the numbers talk."

Less women among best-selling artists

The Kunstkompass (art compass) of the German business magazine Capital comes out once a year. It receives a lot of attention on the art market as it reflects current trends. Only two women, Rosemarie Trockel and Cindy Sherman are among the Top 10 (third and fifth).

The ranking's publisher, Linde Rohr-Bongard, was briefly among the Guerrilla Girls some 20 years ago when she spent time in New York. The walls of her Cologne office are decorated with huge posters depicting charts that are divided in different categories like artists, media, sales and galleries. Linde Rohr-Bongard works with a points-based system in order to identify artists whose works sell at top prices all over the world.

With a total of 142,900 points, German artist Gerhard Richter was the bestseller of 2017, whereas Rosemarie Trockel, who ranked third on the list, only gathered 93,000 points. As it's difficult to find reliable information on sales on the art market, the points-based system cannot be trusted 100 percent. But what clearly emerges is that even the richest female artists are less rich than their male rivals. For years, Linde Rohr-Bongard has observed how hard it is for women to establish themselves on the art market.

 Knitted Paintings by Rosemarie Trockel (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini)

German artist Rosemarie Trockel became renowned by criticizing the male-dominated art world with her "knitted pictures"

During the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair in December 2017, the online magazine Artsy published a survey that showed that even female gallery owners prefer male to female artists. Another visible trend is that, the bigger the gallery, the less women artists it represents. In the US, there is a widespread belief according to which the careers of women artists come to an end in the course of their lives — for the very same reasons that hamper women's careers in other fields as well.

Gallerie VAN HORN Düsseldorf | Daniela Steinfeld 2017 (VAN HORN)

Gallery owner Daniela Steinfeld strictly demands a 50 percent share of women in art

Mothers face big challenges on the art market

As soon as a woman artist has children, she is met with skepticism of collectors who believe that her career is over. Daniela Steinfeld, owner of the gallery van Horn in Düsseldorf, even witnessed that a collector stepped back from the purchase of a work as soon as he learned that its creator was a woman. "He took another look at the artwork and suddenly it wasn't what he had wanted anymore."

But the study undertaken by Artsy also reports on a positive trend. It seems that the number of rich female collectors and gallery owners is on the rise. In spite of this trend, the rates reflect social reality in that the absolute number of successful female collectors and gallery owners is still quite low all over the world, including in Germany.

Bildergalerie Art Cologne 2013 Stefan Balkenhol (DW/S. Oelze)

A painting by Stefan Balkenhol. There's still a gender gap in the art world 

Posthumously becoming a top-selling artist 

It's quite different though when it comes to women artists who are already beyond child-bearing age.Their chances to become successful are bigger now. One example is sculptor Louise Bourgeois who died in 2010. By now, she is among the top 10 best-selling artists. However, the boom only started after her death, and this even though her husband who worked at the MoMa was very influential. When her first big exhibition was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, she was already more than 80 years old.

There are reasons to hope things will change. An increasing number of women are now employed in leading positions in museums and at biennials. Men's solidarity with their female colleagues is also on the rise. An example is US painter David Reed who is represented by gallery owner Anke Schmidt: "He would never participate in group exhibitions in which only men present their works."

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