The inaugural Women in Art Fair (WIAF) will be held in London this October, The Art Newspaper reports. The organisers say that the event is intended to address the underrepresentation of women in the art world. The event will take place from 11 to 16 October and will be held at the Mall Galleries in Westminster.
These dates coincide with the Frieze London and Frieze Masters annual contemporary art fair. Despite a proliferation of talented female artists and the increasing spending power of women, Artnet reports that work by female artists makes up just 2% of the total spent on artworks at auction.
In 2023, this gender imbalance is particularly striking and shocking. It is attributed to the entrenched gender bias of both collectors and museums, and also because a very small handful of women artists make up a disproportionate amount of high-value sales, including Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Joan Mitchell, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Agnes Martin.
The American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) holds the record for the most expensive artwork by a woman. Her painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 sold for £27.8 million at Sotheby’s in 2014. O’Keeffe is most famous for her close-up representation of flowers and plants, a style which later developed into more abstract paintings.
The most expensive artwork by a living female artist is by the Scottish artist Jenny Saville. The oil on canvas self-portrait titled Propped (1992) fetched £8.25 million in 2018. However, this pales in comparison with the record for the most expensive work by a living male artist, namely Jeff Koons’ Rabbit (1986) which sold for $91 million in 2019.
Jacqueline Harvey, the director of WIAF, said: “The [art] industry needs to have a real look in the mirror at its under-representation of women. The gender imbalance is sector-wide: from commercial representation for artists, sales at auction and acquisitions in museums, as well as pay and job opportunities.”
Another WIAF organiser, Sigrid Kirk, commented: “Gender bias in the art market is real. It’s endemic and structural. I’m not sure showing women separately and divorcing them from a market place is the best way of shifting the needle, but it is a powerful call to action and a sign that commercial galleries are not changing or adapting fast enough.”
She added: “By 2025, it is estimated that 60% of the UK’s wealth will belong to women who will want to buy art by women. In terms of a market for art by women this presents an undeniable growth area and one commercially savvy galleries are heeding.”
Despite the lack of women artists in the upper echelons of the art world, there is no shortage of the representation of the female form in art, with women as subjects featuring in around half of the top 50 of the world’s most expensive artworks.
Women may profit materially much less than men from their creations, but the influence of women’s work on male artists is tacitly acknowledged, opening the door for work that could be more personal or psychologically insightful. As the 21st century progresses, it is surely time to level the playing field.
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