Women artists and art dealers have spent decades swimming against the current, forging their own individual path ahead in the murky world of the fine art market. From visual artists to art saleswomen, women in the arts have faced unique challenges and opportunities in a male-dominated field. Although certain women gallerists and artists achieved success in the early 20th century, starting with Edith Halpert and Georgia O’Keefe and leading up to mid-century darlings such as Peggy Guggenheim and Joan Mitchell, many women sought out opportunities to create and sell art with success clearly limited by the societies they were confined within.
Revisiting these victories in 2019, it feels like much more is left to be done to ensure that women artists, curators and gallerists have a platform upon which to build their success. Whether speaking out and advocating for women in the field, providing a diverse programming schedule and/or featuring their own work across a wider art market, women dealers and women artists have strived toward a more equitable 21st century than women in the field enjoyed in the 20th century. We chatted with some of the women in the arts who are dedicated to providing equal opportunities for women, and/or who are advocating for their own work, in a crowded art market where much is still left to be done to ensure equity across both visibility and sales.
Women Artists and Dealers United
Assembly Room may be the most crucial platform yet for women artists and curators. Established in 2018 as a space for women creatives, the gallery on Henry Street provides an experimental space for women to create and engage one another. Hosting a variety of events for women curators and creatives, this space is co-founded by Yulia Topchiy, Paola Gallio and Natasha Becker. These women have dedicated their efforts toward creating a level playing field for women in the arts by shining a spotlight on women’s creative projects. “In the past two years, we felt the awakening that has taken place in (United States’ culture and) culture at large; the groundswell of activism by women on many levels (that has) put a glaring spotlight on hypocrisy, misogyny, racism greed and abuse of power,” notes Topchiy who is co-founder and curator, Assembly Room. She continues of their specific mission, “Assembly Room emerged from the deep desire and need to give women a voice to independent women curators by supporting their vision and creative endeavors.”
Many women have sought out these opportunities to shine and provide greater access to both their own artwork and works by other women in public, creative spaces. Artist and curator Etty Yaniv notes of her own creative process, and her advocacy of other women artists, that she is clearly aware of the necessity for women to forge ahead in a post- #MeToo world. “When Marilyn Minter was asked in a 2014 survey by Artnet News whether there is still a gender bias in the art world, she retorted, “Is the Pope Catholic?”” Yaniv observes wryly. In spite of this ongoing bias, there are indicators of a paradigm shift – social cues that Yaniv herself has been sensitive to. “That said, there is gradual improvement, and we want to make sure it keeps going in the right direction, especially in today’s domestic political climate. Statistics support that impression: the National Museum of Women in the Arts published on their site that ArtReview’s 2018 Power 100 list of the ‘Most Influential People in the Contemporary Art World’ was 40% women, an increase from 2017 (38%) and 2016 (32%). Likewise, women leadership in art organizations has grown, albeit mainly in the ones with the lower budgets according to the Association of Art Museum Directors.”
Yaniv notes that while women are making strides in the arts, the disparity in income between women and their male counterparts persists, with noticeable results for artists, curators and dealers alike. “Both as an artist and as a curator, I have been working quite extensively with talented women who run small budget art venues – from grassroots spaces to University museums all over the country. In addition to leaders in art organizations, perhaps due to the shift in the gallery model, there seems to be an increased trend of women who are combining their active art practice with an entrepreneurial approach to form their own venues of showing art -of their own and of others.”
The bravery and courage of women facing the honesty of a markedly one-sided art market is inspiring in an era of rapid reckoning and change
A Level Playing Field for Women Artists
Women artists and art dealers are allowed as individuals to naturally form individual approaches in the way they work to support the #MeToo movement. While some artists create work around the subject, others work in their own way behind the scenes to ensure that artists working tirelessly (who happen to be women) get their work in front of as many eyes as possible. Artist residencies specifically tailored toward increasing the visibility of women artists, such as the Project for Empty Space Feminist Incubator, exclusively spotlight artists who are fem-identifying or non-binary in creating new bodies of work and having their work featured in supportive, creative environments. The Project for Empty Space itself has a strong history of featuring solo shows by women artists such as Hiba Schahbaz and Zoe Buckman, leading the way in featuring the creative prowess of women artists.
Artist, Curator and ODETTA Gallery Director Ellen Hackl Fagan points out the significance of highlighting women artists at her gallery. “ODETTA is a contemporary art gallery that exhibits the highest standards of quality and originality in artwork. The bottom line is clarity of concept and draftsmanship…as a woman artist and art dealer, I find that showing work by women artists is a result of the community I am building. Women find me easily approachable and well versed in feminist exhibition practices. It’s not that I aim to focus on any particular gender, but more women come to me for opportunities than men, so it does happen that I show a lot of terrific women artists.” Fagan remarks that while gender is not the deciding factor in exhibiting artists, having the ability to show women who run an exciting, professional artistic practice is just one of the perks of her vocation.
While some of these initiatives, artists and art spaces were founded pre- #MeToo era, their missions have taken on renewed importance and urgency in the wake of the revelations detailing abuse of power and misogyny in contemporary society. The art world has not been removed from #MeToo, suffering its own revelations which have derailed the careers of publisher Knight Landesman and curator Jens Hoffmann.
Despite the degrees of justice afforded in the wake of revelations against powerful male figures in the art world, women artists still bear the highest levels of scrutiny with regards to their career, education, sales figures and press coverage. Being an artist who is also a woman necessarily precipitates a careful social media presence, as women will be judged not only by how they depict their artwork across the platform but also how they present their bodies – a scrutiny rarely applied to their male counterparts. Women who have spent portions of their career noting society’s undue scrutiny of womens’ bodies, such as Cindy Sherman, Lynda Benglis and Carolee Schneeman, often have aspects of their practice overlooked that do not specifically address topics of a sexual nature. Women artists, art curators and dealers alike know the risks, and rewards, of succeeding in an art market system still only just warming up to women artists as worthy of sales and academic studies.
Witnessed any women go above and beyond to create opportunities for their artists? Proud to brag on some of your favorite women art dealers? Share your insights in the comments below!