A recent analysis of auction data from 1.5 million auction transactions in 45 countries between 1970 and 2013, representing works by 62,665 artists, suggests that the perception of artists’ genders consistently influences the value of their art.
Researchers at the University of Luxembourg asked thousands of participants to rank works of art, and the results show a consistent bias. They did this via two experiments. In the first experiment, they asked 1,000 respondents to guess the genders of the artists behind unlabeled works and then rank how much they liked the work. The second experiment asked 2,000 participants to rank artworks generated by the DeepArt algorithm that had been arbitrarily attributed fictional creators — half male and half female.
Respondents ranked works they believed to have been created by female artists lower than those thought to be made by male artists — even when the works were generated by an artificial intelligence. Affluent male respondents who frequently visited galleries tended to rank works they believed to be by male artists higher. The study also found that art by women typically sells for about $25,262 on average, which is just 47.6 percent of the price male artists typically sell for at auctions, which is about $48,212.
Both experiments provide evidence that participants who are more likely to represent typical art auction participants potentially value art by women less, the researchers conclude. This perpetuates the industry's gender pay gap.
“The results of this study deliver proof for the disadvantages women face in the art world solely based on their gender,” Professor Roman Kräussl of the Luxembourg School of Finance, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “Male buyers are a driving force of the auction market and yet we see that they are also more likely to think that women’s art is inferior. Our research adds to the mounting evidence of discrimination towards women that is systemic to so many industries.”
The researchers do note that the prospects for women artists seem to be better in countries with less gender inequality, as the discount is higher in countries with greater gender inequality. Besides, the National Endowment for the Arts’ latest Artists and Arts Workers in the U.S. study shows that the number of arts workers are split rather evenly by gender. According to Nine Dot Arts, 51 percent of visual artists are women, 50 percent of MFAs in the U.S. are earned by women, 49 percent of artists collectively represented by four woman-owned and -run Denver art galleries (Walker Fine Art, Goodwin Fine Art, Sandra Phillips Gallery and Visions West Gallery) are women, and 46 percent of all artists and arts workers in the U.S. are women.
But just 37 percent of Tier II Scientific & Cultural Facilities District executive directors in the Denver metro area are female. Just 30 percent of gallery-represented artists are female, only 25 percent of New York solo gallery exhibitions feature women and 24 percent of museums with an annual budget over $15 million have female directors. Moreover, the gap between the highest priced artwork ever purchased at auction and the highest price ever purchased at auction for a female artist’s work is $135 million. Likewise, the gap between the highest auction record for a living male artist to that of a living female artist is $51.3 million.
There's only one woman included in the top 10 living artists based on total value of secondary market sales (2011 to 2016), and there are no women among the highest-selling individual lots for living artists for the same time period.
The fact is that museums and galleries aren’t giving female artists shows or featuring them nearly as much as men. As a result, their collections are undervalued. And because men still control most of the wealth, and because their collections often reflect themselves, men's artwork is consistently ranked higher than women's artwork. It's up to collectors, then, to dictate how our culture is represented in the art world — the more they collect women's artwork, the more it's exhibited and the more it's valued.
“While gender inequality is a serious policy concern, it is often challenging to argue that economic outcomes for women are a product of culture, not biology,” the study’s conclusion reads. “Using the market for art, we highlight the importance of continuing to eliminate gender inequality.”
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.