Post-Feminism and the Contemporary Art Market: How Level is the Playing Field?


Previously published on ForYourArt

Panelist Rachel Lachowicz' "Red David," 1991, Plaster and lipstick.

By Emily Waldorf

On January 29th, five female art professionals participated in a panel discussion, “Playing Fair:  Women in the Contemporary Art Market,” at the inaugural Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair at the Pacific Design Center.  Art dealer Kimberly Light of Kim Light/Lightbox moderated the panel and opened up the dialogue with a slide of Lynda Benglis’ famous 1974 Artforum ad in which she appears nude brandishing a large dildo.  The Benglis ad was a witty nod to the precarious balance between masculinity and femininity that women in the art world must strike and an effective way to jump-start a potentially delicate discussion.

The impressive lineup of panelists included the Director of Sotheby’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Kathy Battista, art writer and independent curator Emma Gray, artist Rachel Lachowicz, and the former Director of the Jumex Collection, Abaseh Mirvali.   The panel expressed disappointment over the gross disparity in value between female and male artists in the contemporary art market and how there are fewer women artists, collectors, and professionals at the very top end of the art market, where male egos tend to battle it out in the salesrooms at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

While there has been a tremendous amount of progress in terms of the advancement of feminist art and the creation of dialogue surrounding women’s issues in the art world, an interesting trend that Rachel Lachowicz brought up was how many young art students today want nothing to do with feminism.  The rejection of feminist art can be discouraging for the generation of women artists that fought so hard to ensure their voices were heard and their work was exposed.  On the other hand, many female artists today prefer to think of their work as post-feminist or prefer to not label it at all.  Some of the panelists argued that critics, dealers, and collectors shouldn’t be paying attention to gender and that it is the quality of the work that counts the most.

Since the panelists came from different disciplines within the art world, their points of view were varied but the underlying theme of having to work twice as hard to prove yourself as a woman in a male-dominated art world remained the same.  Kathy Battista stressed the importance of recent feminist exhibitions such as WACK! and the long-term installation of Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” at the Brooklyn Museum in terms of institutionalizing feminist art.  Emma Gray pointed out how her show at Honor Fraser, “Bitch is the New Black,” helped put a group of women artists on the map and gave them a powerful collective voice.

The conversation was really about sexual politics and the importance of solidarity not only between women but also between men and women in the art world.  Happily, a high proportion of the best artwork being made today is by women, which makes it easier to champion the careers of women artists and work towards leveling the playing field in terms of representation and value at the very top end of the market.

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