Women In Art Symposium Tackles Inequality In Galleries

Dec 7, 2013

Beth Lipman with her work displayed at Art Miami. Women's work is under-represented in the art world.
Credit Wilson Sayre

Art Miami, an Art Basel satellite fair, held a symposium this week on women in the arts.

The event was designed to bring attention to inequality between men and women on gallery walls, both the amount of women artists and the value of their work.

Only about 5 percent of art currently on display in museums is by women. In the art market, women’s art generally sells for about a tenth of the price of male counterparts’ works. Historical art does skew that number -- men have dominated the artistic canon for centuries. However, the numbers are not much more equal in the contemporary art world. Only a fraction of the current art on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is by women artists.

Elizabeth Sackler, a major philanthropist in the art world, says viewing art pieces as financial investments  could be one reason for the marginalization of women artists.

“I think it dilutes art. It dilutes artists' goals and I think it is very destructive,” she says.

A presentation of work by a Beatriz Millar, a woman artist, at the symposium.
Credit Wilson Sayre

She thinks putting the emphasis back on the art and not the business around it will elevate the status of female artists, who yield art just as wonderful as men's, but may not fetch as high a price tag yet. Once the artistic value of women’s work is established, she argues, the monetary value will follow.

“We have to rethink ... the way in which we relate to art, what art is about,” Sackler says. “Artists really [need to] to remember that the point isn’t necessarily to sell art. The point is to make art.”

Beth Lipman, an artist whose work is showing at Art Miami, thinks there is still value in commercial aspects of art. Her first major sale to the Brooklyn Museum was a pivotal moment for her career.

“It wasn't really about the money. It was this institution -- they’re saying to me, 'You've made something of significance of cultural value',” Lipman says. “It gave me a doorway to walk through that felt powerful. It gave me some confidence at a point in my life when I did not have much in my practice.”

Art Miami is trying to promote this kind of validation and empowerment of women artists through exposure. Forty-three of the galleries showing at the fair represent the work of more than 100 women artists.