Art and Gender. On the Importance of Gender for Leadership in the Art Field
While #metoo dominates the media, there is a growing debate about gender equality in the cultural field as well. But where do the German and international art scene stand when it comes to art and gender? Katrin Hassler's book (currently only available in German) attempts to explore this in a quantitative study and provides figures on the significance of gender for filling leading positions in the art field.
As early as the mid-1980s, the well-known artists group Guerrilla Girls asked: "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met.museum?" It was a reaction to a study which showed that although less than 5% of modern artists are women, 85% of the nudes represent women. Although the feminist movements during those years gave more visibility to the subject, there is nevertheless a disparity between the representation of women on the one hand but, on the other hand, as well as a disparity in ethnic diversity and the distribution of power within the art world on the other.
It remains to be seen whether a kind of turning point was reached in 2017: It was the year when "Time" made the "Silence Breaker" the person of the year women who have publicly spoken about their traumatic experiences with sexual violence. The ensuing #metoo debate has also had an impact on the art world, although the problem is more likely to be discussed in an international context rather than at home. 2017 was also the year in which, for the first time in the history of the Power 100 List of Art Review, a woman lead the list: Hito Steyerl. And there were also several significant individual exhibitions for female artists.
Katrin Hassler's book "Kunst und Gender" (Art and Gender), published in 2017, has been oriented towards feminist movements in art since the 1970s and shows the "persistent resistance to quantitative procedures, which is reflected in a relatively limited set of data representing women in the art field [...]." However, it is surprising that sociological gender studies receive so little attention in the art world, even though a high proportion of women dominate this area. Such studies are essential to give a subject the seriousness it deserves and provide data sets that could be used more politically in the longer term.
It should be noted that the author of the book is aware of the problem of the binary classification into biological genders. Knowing about the (social) makeup of gender, it cannot forgo this classification from its sociological point of view without "disguising existing power relations along the gender gap." (p. 274)
Structure of the book
The first part of the book consists of the presentation of the interdisciplinary theories used in the research fields of (art) sociology, art history, cultural policy and gender studies. The author gives an overview of the feminist debates. The theoretical framework is the gender-theoretical approach of Pierre Bourdieu, which she further develops into a "gender-art field theory."
In the second part, Hassler examines the extent to which women can occupy leading positions in the art world, how symbolic and economic capital, as well as the year of birth and geographical origin, play a role. Her datasets included the top 2,500 artists from ArtFacts.net in 2010, 200 museum directors from the 2009 Kunstkompass list and a list of the leading gallery owners based on a ranking by Artinvestor as well as the ArtReview list of the "Top 100" in 2005.
The significance of the data sets
When looking at the individual data samples, the unequal distribution is noticeable. While the artists provide a representative figure which is why the author can make the most differentiated observations at this point the other data sets with a size of 200 are not able to make such pointed observations. However, the present study is based on a dissertation, so that only limited resources were available. Nevertheless, the unequal data volume quickly results in an imbalance of the represented countries. In the Top 200 galleries and museums, for example, an imbalance can be seen in the European and American context. The author seems to be aware of this because in chapter 4.2.3 she makes an excursion to artists from Iran and the distribution of artists in arts centers and the periphery.
While this excursion is extremely important, the geographical division seems problematic. The author uses Alain Quemins division of center and periphery (Globalization and Mixing in the Visual Arts: An Empirical Survey of "High Culture" and Globalization. International Sociology 2006/ 21,522-550), who subsumes Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Switzerland, Switzerland and the USA as international art centres, and the other countries count as peripheral countries (p. 190). In contrast to the UBS Art Market Report of Art Basel 2017 conducted by Clare McAndrew, the most important art markets are the USA (40%), the UK (21%) and China (20%).
Katrin Hassler's study shows that the art market and the institutional museum sector are not interchangeable. While the author attaches the highest legitimizing function to museums in the art field and examines galleries, particularly by their proximity to economic capital, she mixes both aspects among the artists. The reality, however, is more differentiated. Artists who sell well in the art market do not necessarily have to be represented in museums, and many of the top 100 artists, who are hard to imagine without biennials, are not among the high sales figures in the art market. Rankings of this kind are therefore to be taken with caution; one wishes that more data points would have been used.
When evaluating data sets, the correct questions are essential, as is to question critically how representative the subarea of the data is. In many areas, the author succeeds in doing this remarkably well, unfortunately in some places less. In her segment about continental origin and gender, the individual samples are so small that one should not draw any representative conclusions. Of the 2,500 artists surveyed, only 51 were born in Africa, and 37.3% were women. Thus, Hassler concludes that Africa has a comparatively high proportion of women in the top echelons of art, which has a far too deliberate effect on the figures and therefore calls for more targeted studies with more data. The author also consulted the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report of 2006 and contrasted the gender asymmetry in Africa with her non-representative findings. Here it can be seen that in some places she was tempted to make statements for which she had too little data.
Nevertheless, Hassler succeeds in providing important results for the art field in the vast majority of the book. To point out just a few of them: The inclusion of women is greater among gallery owners than among artists and museum directors (245). Museum directors in top international positions have more subject-related degrees and hence a more specific educational capital than their male counterparts (p. 241), resulting in fewer career changes midway and lateral entrances. There is also a correlation between the gender of artists and the attainment of top prices (p. 217).
The book also provides considerable data on the extent to which gender is intertwined as a dimension of inequality with other factors such as generational affiliation, geographical origin, and economic capital. The theoretical part also makes this book an important companion for those who would like to address gender debates in the art field with new approaches. In addition to the results of the study, it offers a broad bibliography of further topics and also shows its strength in the form of a compendium. After reading the book, it is hoped that Hassler's data will be taken up, that research in this exciting field will be given greater importance in the future and that it will receive increased financial resources for more extensive studies.
This book review was translated from German by Erik Dorset.