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Gender Disparity in Major London Galleries Has Got Worse, A New Study Shows

Across UK galleries and universities, women are continuing to lose out, according to latest report commissioned by the Freelands Foundation

Lubaina Himid, The Carrot Piece, 1985, acrylic paint on plywood, wood and cardboard, and string, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens; photograph: Andy Keate

Lubaina Himid, The Carrot Piece, 1985, acrylic paint on plywood, wood and cardboard, and string, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens; photograph: Andy Keate

Lubaina Himid, The Carrot Piece, 1985, acrylic paint on plywood, wood and cardboard, and string, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens; photograph: Andy Keate

new report commissioned by the Freelands Foundation shows an increasing gender disparity in the London art world. Examining figures collected over the past year, the report, compiled by curator Marijke Steedman, argues: ‘Female artists are still under-represented in the art world in 2017 despite outnumbering men studying in art school.’ The study finds that this art world gender disparity is pronounced in the professional markers of an artist’s career, such as securing commercial representation or having a solo exhibition at a London institution. Furthermore, the report says that women academics are more likely to be paid less than their male peers in university art departments.

The representation of women in London's commercial gallery sector has reached a new low. The report finds that across 2017 only 28% of artists represented by major commercial galleries in London were women, a fall from 29% in the Foundation’s report from last year, examining 2016 figures. At major commercial galleries in London during Frieze Week 2017, only 21% of shows were by women artists, half the amount (42%) in 2016.

At London’s major institutions only 22% of solo shows in 2017 were by female artists, falling by 8% since 2016 and by 3% since 2014–15. Outside of London the figures improve: 47% of commissions at the latest Folkestone Triennial, Glasgow International and Liverpool Biennial were by women and the number of solo shows by female artists in major institutions outside of London has risen by 17% since 2016.

In the auction industry, just 3% of lots for the highest grossing Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sales were artworks by women. ‘These grim statistics indicate that women continue to be excluded from the mainstream commercial art market despite their best efforts to participate,’ the study says. 

In university art faculties, a pronounced gender pay gap still persists, with only 41% of the best-paid academics being women. Meanwhile 61% of the lowest-paid part-time academics are women. There is, the report says, a ‘distinct contrast’ between this figure and the 63% of women studying creative arts and design at undergraduate level, and 66% of women at postgraduate.

‘Female students studying creative arts and design continued to outnumber men, while men outnumbered women in the majority of activities that signify the development of an artist’s career,’ the report says. It paints much the same picture that the Foundation found in its report released last year, which examined female representation across 2016 – a significant amount of women outnumbering men while studying the arts, but with the disparity flipping to women being underrepresented in terms of professional success.

The findings of the Freelands Foundation report, published yearly since 2015, follow on from a spate of recent studies examining gender disparity in other areas of the creative sector. New figures compiled by the Women in Music project show that in 1,445 classical music concerts held across the world this year, only 76 included at least one work by a woman. And a study published last week by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has concluded that film critics in the US are overwhelmingly white and male.

Meanwhile the Freelands Foundation has named its shortlist for its 2018 Awards, which comes with a GBP£100,000 prize for a non-London-based UK arts institution working with mid-career female artists (GBP£25,000 of the award goes to the artist). The winner will be announced in the autumn. Shortlisted institutions are the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast, Bristol’s Spike Island and Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield.

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