Are female artists still underrepresented in Britain? The answer is a resounding yes, according to the fifth Freelands Report into the representation of female artists in Britain, published last week. The report covers the year 2019 and according to its author, Dr Kate McMillan, her findings highlight “how far there is to go in recognising and valuing the labour, creativity and endurance of female artists in Britain”.
Yet at the same time, the Freelands Foundation also injected some positivity into the picture with the accompanying announcement of its annual £100,000 Freelands Award, which this year went to the MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, to host a survey of the artist Ingrid Pollard in 2022. MK Gallery and Pollard, who uses photography, film, collage, sculpture and installation to explore the human figure from different perspectives, are the fifth recipients of the award, which enables an arts organisation outside London to present an exhibition by a mid-career female artist who may not have received the acclaim or public recognition she deserves.
The very existence of the Freelands Award is itself a tacit acknowledgment of the still glaring gender discrepancies that exist across the British art world. And many of these are exposed in the findings of this latest report. It spells out the harsh fact that, although many more women than men continue to study art and design both in school (where 66% of GCSE and 74% of A level graduates are female) and also in university (where graduate and post-graduate courses are made up of more than 60% women), this gender ratio dramatically reverses when it comes to making a living as an artist.
McMillan found that only 35% of artists represented by commercial galleries in London are women, while the number of solo shows in non-commercial galleries outside London fell by 4% on the previous year—part of a steady four-year-long decline. And auction houses may trumpet the sale of individual lots by the likes of Louise Bourgeois or Helen Frankenthaler, but it is common knowledge that the prices they command are a fraction of their male counterparts: 80% of Sotheby’s ten highest grossing sales were of works by men. Of the 112 artists whose work was sold in Christie’s evening sales in 2019, only 14 were women.
The Art Newspaper
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