My name is Kate Probst, and I am the curator of The Women’s Studio.
In 1971, American art historian Linda Nochlin helped start feminist art history with her “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” She wrote this essay when half the art students in the United States were female. At this time I was unaware of Nochlin and her essay. I was studying for my Master’s Degree in N.Y.U.’s School of Education, the English Department’s Humanities for Teachers Program, which focused on art and literature from Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Fleming’s Arts and Ideas was the text for the European component. I also used Janson’s History of Art, the 1962 first edition. It never bothered me that there were no female artists in either of these texts. Moreover the modern art I saw in New York’s museums was made almost exclusively by male artists. And that too didn’t bother me.
It wasn’t until decades later when I was studying art history in the docent program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that I realized just how egregious the situation was for female artists. As an example, when I looked at some of my own art history books I saw glaring examples of female exclusion. In Writers on Artists, 2001, 39 artists were interviewed; only two were female at 5%. In Monet and Modernism: Modern Art 1900 – 1945, 2002, 30 modern and contemporary artists were discussed; only one was female at 3%. Modern Art 1900-1945: The Age of Avant-Gardes, 2005, featured 194 artists; only 12 were female at 6%.
From 2007 to 2014, females were represented in solo shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art at 29% and at the Guggenheim in New York at 14%. In 2015, the percentage of works by female artists at France’s Centre Pompidou was 16% and at New York’s Museum of Modern Art 7%. For the prestigious Turner Prize there were 33 winners from 1984 – 2017. Seven were female at 21%, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the first female artist, Rachel Whiteread, won.
Since 2013, Los Angeles artist Micol Hebron has been examining female representation in contemporary commercial art galleries throughout the world. Her “Gallery Tally,” incorporating nearly 5,300 artists at more than 500 galleries in 33 cities, shows that the average ratio for female artists is 31%. Spruth Magers, according to her, has a 28% roster of female artists. In other tallies Hauser Wirth & Schimmel’s Gallery has a 32% roster of female artists closer to 50% parity than Pace (14% female artists), Gagosian (15% female artists), or David Zwirner (28% female artists). Hebron also analyzed top auction sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams & Butterfields from 2012-2014. Work by female artists, both living and deceased, drew 11 to 14 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts!
Let’s take a look at just a few examples of what female artists have had to endure. Louise Nevelson, one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century, was nearly 50 years old when the art world noticed her. Louise Bourgeois – sculptor, installation artist, painter, and print-maker – had her first retrospective when she was 70 years old. Carmen Herrera sold her first painting at the age of 89. Being shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016 granted Herrera the status that should have been hers for decades. Before being allowed to join Spiral, a collective of some 15 African American male artists, Emma Amos had to submit her work to them for approval. Painter and fabric artist Faith Ringgold has quoted the words of politician and educator Shirley Chisholm when she talks about herself in the art world, “Of my two handicaps, being female put more obstacles in my path than being black.”
“The Women’s Studio” hopes to redress discrimination by writing about and showing art works by modern and contemporary female artists. April 30th marks the start of this endeavor with the first 200 female artists. “The Woman’s Studio” will continue to add artists and to regularly update artists already listed in an effort to introduce and promote the work of female artists.
Updated Postscript: In 2022, three years after I started The Women’s Studio, some $11 billion worth of art was sold that year. Yet the work of male artists made up $9.7 billion while that of female artists accounted for a little over 1 billion or just 9.3% of the overall total amount. And this was considered a record year for female artists at auction! So we still have a long way to go to achieve parity for female artists.