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Partly due to historical disparities, the Art Market is not a fair field for Female Artists. According to the 2021 Art Basel and UBS report, female representation is at an extremely low and steady 37%. Looking at the current situation, is there any sign of gender inequality ever ending?

Related articles: What does the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2021 say about the past year? - Are Young Collectors shaping the ‘New Normal’ in the post COVID-19 Art Market? - (Re)mind the gap!

Gender inequality is a longstanding problem. In 1988, feminist art collective Guerrilla Girls created a poster about the advantages of being a woman artist. Ironically among the points they listed was ‘Working without the pressure of success’. This was in the 80s, but where do we stand now?

 

Guerrilla Girls, You’re Seeing Less than Half the Picture, 1989, Courtesy of guerrillagirls.com ©1989 Guerrilla Girls.

 

We know that the market still reflects a biased Art History, but the data shows how the steps towards parity have not penetrated evenly into the Art Market. Generally, female artists’ have represented a constant 37% among all dealers according to Art Basel and UBS.

 

Arts Economics, Table showing the Change in Sales 2019-2020 by Share of Female Artists Represented, 2021, Courtesy of Art Basel and UBS ©2021 Arts Economics.

 

Auction sales predominantly see male artists. The values of the sales of female artists’ work ranges from 3% of the total value of sales in China, to 13% in the US. The percentage is minimal. Further, as the figures go up at auction, the presence of female artists goes down. Only 8% of works sold for over $1 million were by women artists – 9% of the total value of these sales. 6% of the lots which were valued at over $10 million included works by female artists – a share of 4% of their total sales value. This confirms what Artnet said in 2019: buyers are unwilling to pay high prices for artworks by female artists.

 

Arts Economics with data from Artory, Table showing Share of the Fine Art Auction Sales by Female Artists by Price Level in 2020, 2021, Courtesy of Art Basel and UBS ©2021 Arts Economics.

 

There are limited possibilities, and the situation is not encouraging. Since 2019, in the secondary market of resales the share of female artists represented by dealers has remained at a stable 24%. This part of the market is strongly connected to the inequalities of the past, but unfortunately under-representation remains even if we only consider the first sales. Among primary market dealers the share of female artists was 36% in 2018. After rising to 44% the following year, the percentage dropped to 41% in 2020. Positive, but not a revolutionary trend.

In 2019, Artnet revealed that only a few female artists actually benefit from the small space given to them. According to the Art Basel and UBS 2021 report, the share depends on the level of establishment of the artist. For primary art market dealers, a higher percentage is recorded for emerging female artists – 48% in 2020. The percentage is lower for mid-career artists, 42%. For established female artists it plummets to 35%. The overall picture is extremely disturbing but it is not all negative.

Despite the disappointing news for any artist who wants to make it the career of a lifetime, the report does state that the percentage of female artists’ work in collections is increasing. Rising from the 33% registered in 2018, the percentage went up to 39% in 2020. This is also thanks to the growing presence of female collectors who invested 42% in female artists (compared to the 36% of male collectors). A small step in the right direction!

Interestingly, the data also shows that the resilience of galleries is influenced by representation. In the far from flourishing 2020, sales performances depended on the number of female artists’ works on their walls. The higher the share in female artists, the lower the decline – another positive sign?

 

Tristan Fewings / Getty Images for Sotheby’s, ‘Propped’ (1992) by Jenny Saville is sold at Sotheby’s for a record £9.537.250 in October 2018, 2018, Courtesy of Forbes ©Sotheby’s.

 

Additionally, some information should definitely not go unnoticed. Tracking the change in the value of artworks presented at auction multiple times, Sotheby’s Mei Moses recorded that the value of works made by women skyrocketed between 2012 and 2018. Indeed, resales of female artist’s work increased by 72.9%. The overall market was still in favour of male artists, but nevertheless this is extremely significant.

The small improvements do not put an end to the difficulties caused by the gender bias and centuries of inequality. The issues are deeply rooted, and the data is just a tiny corner of the problem. But awareness of where we stand comes with the responsibility of supporting true equality and distributed representation.

There should not be disadvantages for being a Women Artist.

 

Michael Klein, Graph: The All Art-Female (AAF) Index increased by 72.9% between 2012 and 2018. In contrast the All Art-Male (AAM) Index increased by 8.3% over that same period, Courtesy of Sotheby’s ©Sotheby’s.

 

Cover image: Guerrilla Girls, The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, 1988, Courtesy of guerrillagirls.com ©1988 Guerrilla Girls.

Written by Zoë Rivas Zanello

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