The Role of Women in the Art World

08 Mar 2019

Throughout the history of art, women have often been represented as a subject rather than the creative force behind the artwork. However, they have continually played an important role in supporting their male counterparts and helping them to achieve stellar careers. Female artists are now finally gaining recognition and as a result we are seeing a rise in the number of women represented by galleries and offered at auction. In celebration of Women’s History Month, let’s have a closer look at the development of the female art market and the upcoming events on this topic taking place at Christie’s Education. 

In the recent Post-War and Contemporary evening auction at Christie’s in London on 6 March, nearly a quarter of the works on offer were made by women. Alongside established names such as Joan Mitchell and Bridget Riley, the audience saw also the next generation of female artists. Avery Singer, a thirty-two year old American, appeared at auction for the first time. Jordan Casteel achieved a world auction record with her painting Patrick and Omari, when it sold for almost £300,000, five times its high estimate.

Although a work by a female artist hasn’t made it into the top 10 most expensive lots sold at auction yet, their prices are increasing. Christie’s has set records for many female artists, including Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeouis and Barbara Hepworth. 

“It’s a very exciting time for women artists at auction, and with the rise of women in the emerging market, it could very well filter through to the secondary market,” says Katy Hessel, women's art advocate and Instagrammer with almost 47,000 followers on @thegreatwomenartists. Katy will discuss women artists from the Renaissance to the present day who have been sold at auction around the world during an evening course Women at Auction, held at Christie’s Education in London on 20 March.

Women auctioneers have also made their way through this historically male dominated area of the art world. “In the latest auctioneering school, there have been many more women applicants, which is a great sign, and I think that in time the gap will start to close and we will definitely have equal male and female auctioneers on the rostrum,” says Georgina Hilton, Christie’s auctioneer and Head of Special Events and Strategic Partnerships, Asia. She was the first female fine art auctioneer, who won the UK Novice Auctioneer of the Year award in 2017. 

As the saying goes, behind every successful man there is a strong woman, and this can certainly be applicable to the art world. It was Martha Jackson who let Alan Kaprow fill her New York gallery with tires and objects wrapped in tar paper, inviting visitors to engage with the work. Berthe Weill gave Picasso a show in 1901, when he had just arrived in Paris. Helen Lessore’s friendship with Francis Bacon led her to exhibit his students Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff in her Beaux Arts Gallery in London. 

“Throughout Europe and the United States, in an increasing number after the end of World War II, women took risks in supporting art that very few other dealers would have taken chances on,” explains Dr Véronique Chagnon-Burke, Academic Director at Christie’s Education, New York. “They have taken risks to become taste makers and nurture artists’ careers, they are great role models for women today.” The role of women art dealers in sustaining the development of modern art will be explored during a two-day symposium Women Art Dealers on 17 – 18 May at Christie’s Education, New York.