Women make up a tiny proportion of the international art auction market, says art historian Griselda Pollock, keynote speaker at this week’s NGA’s Know My Name conference. Last year, the international art world was scandalised when two journalists, Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns of Artnet, revealed work made by female artists accounted for just over two per cent — US$4 billion — of the entire market over 11 years.
Pollock says that the limited market is a direct result of decisions made by museums and galleries. “There is an intimate relation between financial and symbolic value. If the work of women is not valued by scholars and curators art historically, the market reflects that low estimation.
Renee Adams, professor of finance at the Said Business School at Oxford, has done the numbers. In a paper she wrote in 2017 (but so far not published in the traditional finance academic journals despite having won awards), she and her colleagues made a remarkable finding.
“We looked at auction prices, secondary market art prices. And what we show is there’s a roughly 40 per cent discount for paintings painted by women relative to paintings painted by men.”
[T]hey also performed an experiment. They showed participants five paintings by women and five paintings by men. Nothing high end, nothing too famous. Participants were asked to guess the gender of the artist just by looking at a painting. No names, no provenance. Participants couldn’t. As the researchers concluded: “Women’s art appears to sell for less because it is made by women.”