Women artists are reclaiming their place in the art world

Niki de Saint Phalle, Yayoi Kusama or Orlan might be among the first names you think of when asked to name a female artist - but they’re not the only ones! Under-represented for centuries, in recent years we’ve not only seen an increase in women artists’ sales, but also in the measures implemented by museums and fairs in their favour.

Art market inequality

According to Artprice, only 12 of the 100 most sought-after artists are women. What’s more, women’s art accounts for only a small fraction of art bought at auction. This is hardly reflective of the overall gender ratio of artists: women make up 80% of the students at the Beaux Arts in Paris. For women artists, the art world remains unequal in terms of visibility, remuneration and recognition of work. While some manage to succeed despite these difficulties, many remain unknown to the general public.

Reversing the trend

For several decades now, there have been those trying to reverse the trend. Such is the case of curator Camille Morineau. She organised Elles at the Centre Pompidou, which exhibited more than 150 women artists, making it the largest female-oriented show in French curating history. Following this exhibition was one observation: female artistic production is abundant, but almost invisible. Much work remains to be done in terms of accessibility and visibility. In order to record these women's achievements, Morineau has founded AWARE (Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibition). This database allows hundreds of female artists to be represented in the art market and gain notoriety: a real step towards recognition.

Consequences for artwork prices

Reputation is a major factor in the valuation of artworks. Even major female artists rarely sell past the $100 million mark. For instance, Louise Bourgeois' work might go for as much as $32 mil., which is still a far cry from the $86.9 mil. of a Mark Rothko. Moreover, figures of this kind are still an exception, since only 20% of women artists make a living from their art.
However, if the glass ceiling has yet to be broken on the artists' side, it is beginning to crack on the side of institutions. Now more than ever, women are taking up senior leadership positions, including Chiara Parisi at the Centre Pompidou-Metz and Laurence des Cars at the Musée d'Orsay.

Greater acquisition of female work

Collectors, aware of the huge potential of female artists, are buying more and more of their works. In addition to this, women artists’ popularity is rising faster than that of their male counterparts; and, outside the sphere of famous artists, their work is affecting a new audience, one less acquainted with ‘mainstream’ contemporary art. This movement has grown with #metoo. At the heart of the debate lies the determination to give women back the place that they deserve.

Crucially, cultural institutions have already started to invest. The French Regional Contemporary Art Funds (FRAC) have encouraged this effort to equalise collections: between 2012 and 2017, their number of female art acquisitions doubled.

These moves are visible across the world, with the founding of the Feminist Art Coalition, and the Baltimore Museum of Art announcing that in 2020 they would only buy female work. Art fairs are also trying to engender change: Paris Photo and Art Paris both offered female exhibitions this year.

It seems a wind of artistic change is blowing over the art world. While much remains to be done to change the habits of this male-oriented art world and achieve parity, there is a powerful determination to increase women artists’ visibility and recognition.

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