“How can you really tell the story of a culture when you don’t include all the voices within the culture?” The Guerrilla Girls, New York based anonymous feminist art activist group
This week has been highly anticipated by art lovers and enthusiasts. Hong Kong Art Week is returning, with Art Central opening on Wednesday, followed by Art Basel and auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Excitement aside, a quick glance through the programmes show that exhibitions and auctions are still largely a male domain. In a blog last year, we pointed out that the representation of female artists in Hong Kong commercial galleries comprised a paltry 6% to 7%.
However, the problem encompasses more than female artists not having opportunities to have their work exhibited - it's also about women attaining high-ranking jobs at galleries and museums.
Female curators and gallerists are under-represented in the industry. The firings of three prominent female curators in the US and Europe last year drew criticisms on the culture of sexism in the art world. Women who make it to the top are sometimes pushed aside when their leadership direction and style don’t fit the norm.
The inequality also extends into valuing art itself. Wealthy men, who are the driving force of the auction market, tend to rate female artists lower than male artists, and this contributes to a 50% gender pay gap at auctions.
Having more women who wield power in the art industry is important. Compared with their male counterparts, women dealers are 28% more likely to show female artists – and represent more female artists. Women-run galleries show 66% male artists and 34% female artists – higher than the overall share of 72% male and 28% female artists.
Earlier this month, we featured a panel of prominent women in the art industry at our International Women’s Day Lunch and our speakers echoed the importance of increasing the number of women across the art ecosystem, not just among artists. Artist Annysa Ng said that she personally benefited as an artist from the idea of women helping women, and Whitney Ferrare, Senior Director of Pace Gallery, similarly supported this concept by suggesting gallerists should also nurture female collectors, who in turn could support female artists.
We are seeing some positive developments right here in Hong Kong. Suhanya Raffel, our third speaker, is testament to this progress as Executive Director of M+, the museum of visual arts set to open in West Kowloon. The museum’s board also reflects gender equality: half of the board’s members are currently women.
That is indeed promising. The arts are a form of creative expression that is fundamental to human development –seeding new ideas and challenging conventions that ultimately impact conversations and progress our norms. It is this complex intersection between creativity, new perspectives and agency that is needed to spark new ideas around gender equality.
As we enjoy the art buzz this week, let’s work together to close the gender gap in the art industry by giving more support to women, from artists to collectors, from curators to gallerists.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org