Female artists have long been underrepresented and undervalued. While we are beginning to see change it has been slow and long overdue. The recent publication of the Freelands Foundation’s annual report ‘Representation of Female Artists in Britain During 2018’ shines a well-informed light on the impact of gender in career success. Female artists are grossly underrepresented across the art market, from museum shows to the private galleries and auction results. This is backed up by the most recent UBS global Art Market Report that states that works by female artists are selling better now than they did 10 years ago. At auction just 8% of lots sold in 2018 were by women, versus 6% in 2008.
The reality is stark and there is no avoiding it. However, what we are seeing now is how institutional and private partnerships are striving for change by raising the profiles of female artists. The Freelands Foundation awards an annual grant awarded to a regional arts institution to support the creation of a solo exhibition by a mid-career female artist. The artist receives £25,000 to fund the creation of new work and their reputation is strengthened by the show. This award not only supports female artists but also supports regional institutions, which often struggle to compete with those in London. Another notable partnership is that of the collector and philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society. Napoleone, an established collector and patron of female artists, will donate a work by a living female artist to a UK institution every year.
The institutions themselves are also taking steps towards gender parity, this year Tate Britain opened a new display of works by female artists working over the last 60 years. We are also seeing a rise in retrospectives of female artists, with Cindy Sherman opening at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in June and this year Bridget Riley has a show at both the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, and the Hayward Gallery, London. The impact of institutional shows and acquisitions then trickles into the art market.
The market’s role in turn is the opportunity for an artist to establish a sustainable, if not profitable, career. Richard Saltoun has launched its 100% Women programme in support of female artists. The Fine Art Group has been instrumental in setting past and present auction records for more than a dozen female artists across the art historical spectrum from the eighteenth century through to living artists over the company’s history. As auctions provide the only public prices for an artist it is an incredibly important element in the building of an artist’s market.
With multiple established market reports highlighting gender disparity in the art market we must turn to the solutions to correct this. These partnerships between private individuals and institutions are smart because they help art artist build a sustainable career. In turn the market itself is able to grant an artist the recognition and financial success they need to continue developing their work. I’ve experienced first hand the value of works by female artists for collectors, for investors and for those in the trade. There is no doubt that by strengthening the representation of female artists we are strengthening the art market.
As published in Billionaire Magazine.
Author: Philip Hoffman