Issue: Fall 2007
Venue Gender Tally
Written by Sonja Horoshko
“When curating the ‘Coors Western Art Exhibit,’ I try to be blind to gender and the artist’s resume. I go through more than 300 submissions each year to fill only one or two spots, and have to initially judge artists solely on the quality of their work. When I narrow down to the final ten to twenty possible artists, I look at their name and past accomplishments. I am sensitive to including women artists, but must start with quality and subject appropriateness.”
Rose Fredrick is also the curator of “Masterpieces of Colorado Landscape,” exhibited at the Fort Lewis Center of Southwest Studies last February through April 2007. The substantial traveling exhibition presents “major” late 19th century, early 20th century and contemporary Colorado landscape painters. Forty-one artists are represented; seven are women.
“For a woman in the 1800s and early 1900s, it was physically much more challenging to paint, or even just survive, in the West,” says Rose. “A woman’s chances of success in the art market were much stronger in New York City and Connecticut than out here. And,” she explained, “today, a lot of successful men have a woman beside them willing to do the [back up] professional work. That scenario is not as prevalent for women, but when a woman does have a spouse willing to support her, it truly helps her in the market. My strongest advice for women is to dedicate their lives to their careers, just as men do.”
Seven of forty-one. It’s a small number. Still, the ratio of men to women painters in the “Masterpieces” exhibit is slightly higher than percentages in New York City when the Guerilla Girls visited the gender stats at the Metropolitan Museum. Sixteen years after they founded the campaign “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” the percentages had actually slipped. Five percent of the artists in the contemporary and modern sections were women in 1989. By 2004, we had dropped to three percent.
So how equally is the work of female painters exhibited and sold in our community? I suspect that our region fares a little better than New York City and Chicago, but realize that my gut feeling may be generated simply from the number of professional female artists I personally know who compete for their share of the Southwest Colorado art market. Am I really paying attention? Are you? The following tally sheet is designed for us all–men as well as women, gallery owners and directors of public exhibition venues, fundraising chair people and community committees. Copy it. Take it with you to the next opening, public street festival, workshop or fundraiser you attend. Tally it and let us know at Arts Perspective what your results are. And, while you are on task, make it fun by using it as an excuse to meet the artist you have always wanted to talk with.
Venue Gender Report Card
- Tally the numbers. In each exhibit, count the number of women and men included in the show.
- Study the label. It will give you attribution, medium, size and price of the painting. Make notes. Compare and contrast. If a woman’s painting is priced higher than a man’s, think about why. Is it simply bigger? Is it more academic? Is it more realistic? Is she more realistic? Is it the popular subject matter, the framing or simply a personal history of selling at a higher price? Meet the artist. Ask the artist how prices are set.
- Research the hard facts. Ask the gallery director about sales. Who sells at what price? Deb Avery, Executive Director at the Cortez Cultural Center, graciously responded to the query on this subject. She said that last year, the highest prices paid for two-dimensional work–a painting and a drawing–were both paid to male artists. However, 90% of the artists participating in the Cultural Center’s group shows were women, and the average price paid for their paintings was approximately $100.00–13% of the average sale price for work made by male artists.
- Monitor the curators, committees and solo shows. In the sixties, the individual artist exhibition was called a “One-Man” show. The title politically transformed to “One-Person Exhibition,” finally developing into the current acceptable moniker, “Solo Exhibition.” In 1986, the Guerilla Girls put out this public service message: “How many women had one-person exhibitions at New York museums last year? Guggenheim 0, Metropolitan 0, Modern 1, Whitney 0.” According to the FAQs on their website, the Guerilla Girls feel they have helped effect a change since then. The numbers have improved. “Things are better now than they ever have been for women and artists of color. At the institutional level, however, in museums, major collections and auction sales, things are pretty dismal for all but the white guys. We believe the economics of the art market is responsible for this.” Last year there was one solo exhibition at the Cortez Cultural Center. The artist is male.
- Study the corporate and public collections–purchases made for lobbies and hallways, boardrooms and meeting rooms. Tally the male and female artists. Keep track. Ask the curators, business owners and government officials if they bought the paintings.
- How many professional artists do you personally know? Male? Female? How many paintings did you purchase during the past decade? For your home? Your office? How many did you accept as a gift from an artist? Male? Female?
We formulate these questions, this inquiry, through our own experience as women artists. Gender discrimination has not disappeared in the art markets. Our diligent work as painters desires your attention–as buyers, as audience and as monitors. Look at the facts with us. We grow stronger through inclusiveness. A deeper working knowledge of how the art markets work in our region cannot hurt us, and should not inflame us. It can, instead, transform lifestyles through respect and economic power, ultimately adding value and dignity to the profession of all working artists in our region. *
The twenty-year campaign advocating women and artists of color founded by the Guerilla Girls in New York City incorporates sassy humor, dynamite graphics, gutsy research and in-your-face publishing of the facts. Go to http://www.guerillagirls.com.
Sonja Horoshko is a visual artist maintaining a writing studio at home and a painting studio at the Johnson Professional Building, 925 South Broadway, Suite 152, Cortez, Colorado 81321. For private appointments or to schedule workshops, contact her at email@example.com.
Contact Rose Fredrick through her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author's Email: email@example.com