Auction Houses Call Time on Sexist Use of ‘Art Girls’ to Sell Artworks

Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional photographs – will others now follow?

Sotheby’s employee poses for photograph at 2017 Sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art in London. Courtesy: AFP and Getty Images; photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

Sotheby’s employee poses for photograph at 2017 Sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art in London. Courtesy: AFP and Getty Images; photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

Sotheby’s employee poses for photograph at 2017 Sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art in London. Courtesy: AFP and Getty Images; photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

For many years, auction houses have deployed ‘art girls’ in their promotional photographs of artworks. The shots often feature young, white women posing or gazing up at the artwork for sale. But now some leading auctioneers are calling time on the sexist practice.

Auction powerhouses Sotheby’s and Christie’s say that they have dropped the use of only female staff to pose in these promotional photoshoots. Both auction houses now say they will rely on both male and female handlers to feature in the photographs, which are sent to bidders before auctions.

‘Just as we deal with a huge range of art, so too we want to ensure it is shown to our audiences around the world in as varied and engaging a way as possible so as to best reflect its medium, size and subject matter,’ a spokesperson for Sotheby’s said in a statement sent to frieze. ‘Today's audiences respond particularly well to behind-the-scenes, or ‘action’ shots showing technicians – be they male or female – at work.’

Christie’s was keen to point out that the practice of photographing only female staff was also the product of the preferences of picture editors and photographers, not just the auction house itself. ‘Traditionally, the media and photographers used to specifically ask that there be female employees in shot, which we used to accommodate while simultaneously also offering other types of picture. We have not exclusively supplied a shot with a single female employee in a staged pose for some time now,’ a spokesperson for Christie’s told frieze.

Comparisons have been drawn to Formula One’s announcement earlier this year that it would no longer be employing women as walk-on ‘grid girls’ at races, saying that the practice was ‘at odds with modern day societal norms.’

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018