A 1988 piece by the Guerrilla Girls listed “The Advantages of Being A Woman Artist,” which included the tongue-in-cheek advantage of “working without the pressure of success.”. The piece is still alarmingly pertinent 30 years later. A 2018 research paper on The Status of Women in the Canadian Arts and Cultural Industries, found that, while the arts sector is gender-balanced (54% of visual artists working in Canada were female), “women’s artistic and creative outputs receive significantly less public exposure than those of men.” The dissemination of women’s work and the recognition of their achievements were not equal to that of their male peers. The paper notes that there were tentative signs of change, and that progressive action was increasing representation of women in cultural sectors. In the three years since the paper was published, I am confident that the trend of female representation in the art continues to increase—as a bystander I have enjoyed numerous institutional shows by women and a shifting conversation towards re-focusing the patriarchal eye—but we still have a long way to go to achieving parity in the arts.
As someone naturally drawn to art made by women, the question of why women artists have been overlooked nags at me. One reason is that women were mostly banned from artistic professions until the 1870s, meaning that male artists have had a head start. The restraints on women in the past has created the cultural gender norms that we live with today, one that readily allows male artists to strive—making art world celebrities out of men’s rebellious bravado, while women remain in the shadows. The uneven distribution of domestic labour and parenting have also been cited as reasons women’s art is valued below that of their male counterparts. There’s also the established gender pay gap that permeates all fields. To fight for women’s equality within the arts means working towards an ecosystem of overall equality in the art world and outside of it.
Waddington’s Women in Art auction looks at this issue head on: acknowledging the lack of attention and realization that women artists experience and redirecting the course through support and recognition. The auction, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8, directs viewers towards women artists that are worthy of attention—artists that should be household names. The added challenges listed above—of raising children, inability to access art institutions, and gender stereotyping—means that the work you see in this auction are the products of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.
The notion of “household names,”—the concept of reaching mass popularity as an artist—becomes of increased importance for women artists. This is articulated by the fact that art sold at auction by women is concentrated to fewer artists—whereas sales of male artists are more equally distributed. This “all or nothing approach” demands women artists be more successful to reach a fraction of the success of male artists hold. “The numbers are devastating,” says Hauser & Wirth vice-president and partner Marc Payot in an interview with Artnet. “We think we are going in the right direction, but the perception has changed more than the reality. If you take away the top five female artists [Yayoi Kusama, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keefe, and Agnes Martin], in essence, nothing has changed,” he continued
Emily Carr is one of the few Canadian women artists who might be considered a household name. The inclusion of a “Klee Wyck” ceramic pot by Carr in the Women in Art auction underscores the rest of the list. Mary Pratt, Annie Pootoogook, Rita Letendre, Joyce Wieland are also included in the auction. These artists are household names within art circles, and therefore have the exciting potential of being propelled to more widespread success. Similarly, contemporary artists in the auction to look out for include Iris Hauser, Wanda Koop, Kathryn and Macnaughton.
It’s up to us (art-lovers and supporters) to talk about the artists and works that we’re excited about as loudly and often as possible to bolster recognition of Canadian artists—women especially. There’s something exciting about the fact that just because an artist isn’t a household name yet, doesn’t mean that always has to be the case. An artist becomes a household name one household at a time.
Looking through the auction, I’m taken with the tropes that repeat: flowers, still lifes, interiors. In other words: women’s work. These subject matters could be quartered off as “feminine,” but to me, they simply reflect the lives of women. Like an Alice Munro story, I become invested in the strength and resilience that can be articulated through the domestic realities of women’s day-to-day lives. I am equally smitten with the people who made the work as by the art itself.
The fact that women account for less market realization than men is something that is relatively easy to change: people need to buy more art by women artists, both on the primary and secondary market. There’s no logical reason for the lower price points, women’s work is just as good and as historically significant as men’s work. An understanding that women are undervalued doesn’t necessarily beget change. To change these perceptions we must make a concerted effort in supporting, engaging, and buying more art by women artists
Tatum Dooley is a writer and curator who lives in Toronto. She has written for Artforum, Border Crossings, Canadian Art, Garage Magazine, the Globe & Mail, Lapham’s Quarterly, and The Walrus. Dooley has curated shows at Dianna Witte Gallery, General Hardware, and the Drake Devonshire (upcoming). In 2018, she founded the Instagram account and newsletter Canadian Art Forecast.
We invite you to browse the full catalogue for the Women in Art auction. The auction will be online from March 6-11, 2021. Should you have any questions or require additional photographs or condition reports, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].
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