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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.’

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