Has the Art Market Finally Found Its Feminine Side? 5 Experts on the Rising Clout of Women Artists

Has the Art Market Finally Found Its Feminine Side? 5 Experts on the Rising Clout of Women Artists
A work by Sarah Sze at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery booth
(Photo © Shane Ferro)

The current record for a sculpture made by a woman is $10.7 million, paid for Louise Bourgeois's "Spider" (2003) at Christie's last November. Natalia Goncharova still holds the record for an artwork in any medium by a woman, with $10.8 million, which her painting "Les Fleurs" (1912) fetched at Christie’s in London in June 2008. For a living female artist's work (at auction), the record is $6.6 million — also set last November, when a bidder nabbed Cady Noland's 1989 "Oozewald" for that price at Sotheby's. Of course, at the same Sotheby's sale, a Clyfford Still painting sold for $61.7 million, and a Gerhard Richter fetched $20.8 million. (The records for male artists, both living and deceased, stand even higher than that.)

But while the disparity between genders in the secondary marketplace is quite apparent, it is harder to tell what is going on in the primary market. While prices at the top end of the market still heavily lean toward male artists, is that changing? 

 

Going through the lists of highlights of the New York fairs taking place this week, ARTINFO noticed a bevy of solo shows featuring female artists. Are women gaining ground in the marketplace, we wondered? We interviewed five market players (all of whom are in some way invested in the success of female artists) and found that while the question of women in the marketplace is a complicated one, and in many ways raises more questions than answers, there might just be a change afoot — and those who are paying attention have already taken note. 

Mary Sabbatino — Vice President, Galerie Lelong

Sabbatino is a New York art world veteran. She has served as Galerie Lelong's vice president since 1991, back when having price parity between male and female artists was something that stood out. She said that 20 years ago "some women artists in the gallery have told me that male collectors would tell them point-blank that they wouldn't collect their work." (In general, 20 years ago seemed to be a key time frame for the people we spoke to when it came to this issue.)

Now, however, the dealer has noticed a change in the winds. Collectors no longer rebuff female artists simply because of their gender, and sometimes even seek them out because of it. People come into her gallery specifically targeting female artists — sometimes for political reasons, and sometimes for financial ones. "Some see it as an undervalued part of the market. It is very clearly that for some," she said.

At the Art Dealers Association of America's Art Show this week, Galerie Lelong will have a show called "Here First" specifically highlighting female artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Kate Shepherd, and Catherine Yass. "One of the reasons we decided to do this presentation of women artists at the ADAA is that more than many galleries, we've had a parity between men and women artists in the gallery for many years, for decades. We wanted to highlight their achievements, highlight the diversity," Sabattino said.

But even as a dealer with Sabbatino's experience it is hard to pinpoint exactly where there is disparity in the market. "You have to talk about individual artists with what is like them … But there are differences."

The thing is, there is definitely a changing culture, and there is no longer a pervasive idea that women artists should be less valuable than their male counterparts. But that is only the first step in changing the market. "The market functions with supply and demand, very basically," Sabbatino noted, "And when you have to create desire, it is hard to create top prices."

However, as demand rises — as it seems to be considering the recent notable rise in interest in women from museums, dealers, and top collectors alike — prices likely will too.

Linda Blumberg — Executive Director, Art Dealers Association of America

When ARTINFO told ADAA's executive director Linda Blumberg that we had noticed a lot of female artists featured prominently in the Art Show's list of highlights, she emphasized that it wasn't a conscious effort on the part of the organizers, but at the same time, she wasn't surprised. "I would not say that we put out a call in any way," she explained, "But I think that there is a general understanding and consciousness of women's role in the contemporary art scene — and even before the contemporary scene — in American art."

This consciousness, of course, is one that Blumberg has had an active hand in creating. In October 2010, ADAA hosted a forum on "A Woman's Worth: Female Artists in the Marketplace." She noted that the association's dealers have an awareness of the disparity between male and female market prices and are trying to correct it. However, she noted that leveling of prices is something that will come very slowly.

Gender equality is a very slow social movement. "I think it is a general cultural attitude. It was reflected in the workplace, it was reflected in the art world, it was reflected in all kinds of areas. As that began to change culturally, it began to seep in all over."

Gwenolee Zürcher — Co-owner, Galerie Zürcher; Organizer, Salon Zürcher Mini Art Fair

For the second edition of Salon Zürcher, a mini art fair during Armory week that the dealer organizes at the New York branch of her gallery, seven female artists — incluing Polly Apfelbaum, Pushpamala N., and Fransje Killaars — are being shown by seven international galleries from New York, Paris, and Amsterdam. She claims that her intentions were not exactly feminist, but that she does think that women need more attention in the art world.

"Right now, today, there are so many good women artists. They do get some attention but obviously they could get more," she said. She pointed out many of the same things that Blumberg and Sabbatino did: there is definitely a change taking place in the culture and the market for women artists, but that the process is painfully slow.

Zach Feuer — Owner, Zach Feuer Gallery

ARTINFO's conversation with Feuer, who was busy getting ready for his participation in this week's Armory Show, was incredibly short. As opposed to the other art-world players we asked, he didn't even accept the premise of our question. After opening his gallery in 2000 while in his early 20s, the young but experienced dealer made his mark in the art world representing Dana Schutz, whose work now sells for six figures (she's currently represented by Friedrich Petzel Gallery, and her record at auction is $288,000). These days, 70 percent of the artists he represents are women. Gender is not a factor in pricing artists in his gallery, he says, and it never has been.

"The highest-priced artist at my gallery is a woman and the lowest-priced artist at my gallery is a woman..." Feuer told ARTINFO. "It's not an issue for my clients, or anyone I know — we have a few clients who only buy female artists, but most don't care about gender." And that was the end of that.

Sarah Sze — Artist, Professor, Columbia University School of the Arts

As an artist, there is little discrimination to speak of in the reception of Sarah Sze's artwork. She was just named the U.S. representative to the 2013 Venice Biennale, her work can be found at the Guggenheim and MoMA, and she's a MacArthur Fellow. But her many personal accomplishments have not kept her from realizing that there is still a disparity between men and women in the art world.

"I think it is changing a lot, but I think it is important to recognize that it is only changed very recently and there is still work to be done," she told ARTINFO. The field isn't yet level, she explained, but the differences are very subtle compared to 20 years ago. She noted there is inequality in museum collections, and in leadership positions at museums and in art schools, which creates a disparity even if it is not spoken.

Sze is in favor of speaking up. "In the early '90s it was talked about a lot," she said. "But then there was this sort of P.C. backlash. I think that was a mistake."

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