nevertheless, she persisted

Prints by Modern and Contemporary Women Artists

The title of this exhibition hints at the struggle that creative women face in being artists in what can only be described as a male-dominated art world. All of the artists in this exhibition have name recognition, yet they have had to beat tough odds to survive as artists. While the situation has improved more needs to be done to combat inherent bias in the art world and beyond. 

A 2017 study by the University of Luxembourg found that art by women sells for 47.6% less than works by men.(1)  But this is only part of the story. In order to understand more, it makes sense to look back a few decades and to consider art schools, gallery/museum representation in exhibitions, auction results, and the number (and nature) of women working in the arts. 

 

An article in Art News titled “Women Artists ’80” includes a rough chronology of highlights since 1969. According to the authors—Fabian Bocart, Marina Gertsberg, and Rachel Pownall—the activism in the 1970s made a difference in large part because iniquities were made apparent and women began working together. A group led by Brenda Miller, Poppy Johnson, Faith Ringgold, and the critic Lucy Lippard pointed out that less than 5 percent of the artists featured in the annual exhibitions at the Whitney Museum were women. Protests over the low representation of women artists were mounted at LACMA (1970), the Corcoran Gallery (1971), and MOMA (1972), and groups formed calling for more artists of color.(2) By 1980, the number of women included in what is now called the Whitney Biennial had risen to between 20 and 25%. 

Before representation, however, comes education. Here is where problems begin. While women comprise approximately 50 percent of all art school graduates, they are taught largely by men. A 1978 survey found that men held 88 percent of the full-time faculty jobs, while women held only 12%.(3) While this has improved drastically the imbalance continues. 

When it comes to inclusion in established galleries the numbers are dismal. “Though women earn half of the MFAs granted in the U.S., only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries are women.”(4) According to the recent (2017) artnet and Maastricht study, “only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are female.”(5)  

 

In 1970, the National Endowment for the Arts noted that “female artists (including visual and performance) had median earnings of $3,400 a year, while the figure for male artists was $9,500 a year… in 1976 the situation had not changed, with median earnings at $4,000 a year for women artists and $10,900 for men.”(6) Today, while 51% of artists are women, they continue to earn only 81 cents per dollar earned by male artists,(7) and are still underrepresented in exhibitions, at art fairs, and in auctions. While there will naturally be a smaller number of women artists in exhibitions of historical art, the low numbers are found at major art venues as well. The Art Biennale in Venice, a contemporary art exhibition, is case and point. The “2009 edition featured 43% women; in 2013, [this] dropped to 26%. In 2015, it was 33%, and 35% in 2017.”(8) So despite the fact that there are equal numbers of contemporary artists, men still account for the majority in galleries, in exhibitions and at art fairs.

 

Women are not only artists. They work in all areas of the art world. A disproportionate number of women in the arts are museum curators. Groups like AAMD and AAMC (Association of Art Museum Directors and Curators), respectively are working to promote more women to leadership positions. At present, “Women lag behind men in directorships held at museums with budgets over $15 million, holding 30% of art museum director positions and earning 75¢ for every dollar earned by male directors.”(9)

While just a snapshot, this longstanding inequity in the art world led Wilhemina Cole Holladay and her husband Wallace F. Holladay to begin seriously collecting art by women in the 1960s. In 1980, they started in earnest to found a museum dedicated to women artists. Their plan—The National Museum of Women in the Arts opened in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The museum published a 10th anniversary portfolio of original prints by Elizabeth Blackadder, Sue Coe, Yvonne Jacquette, Ellen Lanyon, Melissa Miller, Paula Rego, Betye Saar, and Kiki Smith in 1998. This portfolio and prints by Louise Bourgeois, Joanna Poehlmann, Joan Snyder and Kara Walker, are featured in nevertheless, she persisted: Prints by Contemporary Women Artists, an exhibition designed to make us think about the art world while enjoying the depth and breadth of work by women who have broken barriers. 

-Annemarie Sawkins, PhD., Curator

1 https://hyperallergic.com/417356/art-by-women-gender-study-sexism/

2 Faith Ringgold started Women Artists and Students for Black Art Liberation.

3 Bocart, Fabian; Marina Gertsberg, and Rachel Pownall, “Women Artists ’80,” Art News, (October 1980): 63.

4 Jillian Steinhauer, “Tallying Art World Inequality, One Gallery at a Time,” Hyperallergic, 2014.

5 https://hyperallergic.com/417356/art-by-women-gender-study-sexism/

6 “Women Artists ’80,” Art News, (October 1980): 62.

7 National Endowment for the Arts, “Artists and Arts Workers in the United States: Findings from the American Community Survey (2005-2009) and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (2010), 2011.

8 Reilly, “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes,” ARTnews, 2015.

9 Association of American Art Museum Directors, “The Ongoing Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships,” 2017.