Female artists gain popularity

Over the centuries there have been few female artists. Logical: women were usually financially dependent and expected to take care of the hearth and home. Although different today, in 2022 female artists will still be at a disadvantage, according to recent research from WOMEN.inc and ABN AMRO. Only 10 percent of the collections in Dutch museums consist of work by female artists, and women earn two-thirds of what their male counterparts earn.

Women’s quota

But there is also a positive development. For example, there are no fewer than four women among the five most influential – if not necessarily best-selling – living Dutch artists: Marlene Dumas, Rineke Dijkstra, Ellen Gallagher and Fiona Tan.

At the Venice Biennale this year, the central pavilion focuses on female artists throughout the ages. With over 85 percent, the proportion of female exhibitors is also higher than ever: in previous years it was under 30 percent and in the first years no more than 10 percent.

In the Netherlands, a number of museums, namely the Van Abbe Museum, the Fries Museum and the Museum Arnhem, use a women’s quota for their purchasing and exhibition policy. And the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has set up a special fund for the purchase of women’s work. Are times changing after all?

‘My sense was that it was OK, but it’s still nice to see it reflected in the numbers.’ – Maria Schnyder, Deputy Director and Curator of the De Pont Museum in Tilburg –

Omniscient male museum director

Maria Schnyder, deputy director and curator of the De Pont Museum in Tilburg, experiences this. “This turning point applies not only to how female artists are viewed, but also to how you view an institution like the museum. The idea of ​​the – male – museum director as an omniscient “knower” is outdated. With everything that’s going on in society, whether it’s about gender or diversity, you can no longer pretend you know everything on your own.’

Of course, social development does not escape De Pont, as evidenced by a recent, much-discussed exhibition by the black, female artist Kara Walker, who does not shy away from themes such as race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity. Schnyder: ‘What we find interesting about her is that she always follows her own voice. She completely disregards the expectations of others, including the established museum world, the patriarchy or even her own society’.

In addition, Schnyder sees that feminine themes, such as the female body or motherhood, which were previously considered unfinished, can now be there. ‘You can now see that children are part of your life, not only in the artworks themselves, but also in exhibitions. Where this was previously considered unprofessional, artists – both men and women – are increasingly seen taking their children with them during the preparations for an exhibition. We also facilitate that as a museum.’

No conscious politics

De Pont does not have a conscious policy regarding female artists. Before the interview, Schnyder admits to having checked the status of their representation at the museum.

‘My feeling was that it was okay, but it’s still nice to see it reflected in the numbers. Since the current director Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen took office three years ago, the proportion of works by female artists has been 70.8 percent, and slightly more than half of the exhibitors were women.’

Record number of female artists

The latest edition of TEFAF, the world’s leading art fair, also saw an ‘absolute record’ of female artists represented last June, according to director Will Korner. Their share was higher than ever. Among them were not only an “old master” from the 17th century such as Artemisia Gentileschi, but also well-known contemporary artists such as Laure Prouvost and Yeesookyung. A painting by the 20th century artist Sonia Tauber-Arp was offered for a whopping €300,000. Although I believe this sum is less than that paid for the work of Tauber-Arp’s more famous man Jean Arp.’

'There is therefore more and more research into lesser-known artists, including more female artists, but also artists of colour.'  - Director Will Korner -

‘There is therefore more and more research into lesser-known artists, including more female artists, but also artists of colour.’ – DDirector Will Korner –

In addition to the increasing social attention for equality and diversity, Korner has a number of possible explanations for the increasing interest in the work of female artists. “For example, gallery owners of leading galleries are increasingly women, and they also represent female artists. In addition, there are several art collectors who are interested in the work of female artists.’

While museums used to have a monopoly when it came to buying art, they now face stiff competition from wealthy art collectors, says Korner. “Museums are constantly looking for new works of art for their collection, where quality is paramount. There is therefore more and more research into lesser-known artists, including more female artists, but also artists of colour.’

Korner identifies an interaction between the museums and the market. ‘Take the 16th century female artist Artemisia Gentileschi. A recent exhibition at the National Gallery in London, devoted to her paintings, has caused quite a stir. I expect that the same will now happen with the Biennale: That it will stimulate interest in the female artists who exhibit there, and that this will also be reflected in the price for their work.’

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