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Art collectors and museum directors may give lip service to the issue of gender diversity, but a startling new survey reveals that female artists remain at a severe disadvantage in both the commercial market and institutional representation.
Artworks by women represented a mere 2 percent of global spending at auction in the last decade, with five names accounting for more than 40 percent of that tiny fraction. The analysis of market statistics, including a survey of the acquisition and exhibition data from 26 leading US art museums, was released Thursday by the art websites artnet News and In Other Words, which is owned by Sotheby’s.
Of the $196.6 billion spent globally on art at auction from 2008 to mid-2019, the survey found that only $4 billion was on art by women, less than the total spent on works by Pablo Picasso alone. A full $500 million of that sliver was spent solely on works by Yayoi Kusama, with Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keefe and Agnes Martin ranking as the other four top names.
In contrast, global auction expenditure on male artists—who make up 98 percent of the last decade’s total—is much more widely distributed. The top five male artists—Picasso, Andy Warhol, Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi and Claude Monet—comprise less than 9 percent of market share.
America’s leading institutions have not been buying much art by women either. Only 11 percent of all the works bought over the past 10 years for the 26 permanent collections surveyed was by women, while at the same institutions female artists headlined only 14 percent of exhibitions. This figure is, however, twice the 2008 total. Female African-American artists were at an even greater disadvantage, accounting for only 3.3 percent of the women whose work was acquired by these institutions. The galleries surveyed include New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museums of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.
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