I Just returned from an event a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum: The Market: Woman Artists from Studio to Collection. The panelists included Deborah Harris from the Armory Show; Deepanjana Klein from Christie’s; Gallery owner Claire Oliver; Institute for Woman and Art Co-Director Dr. Ferris Olin; Gallery Owner Sue Scott and A.I.R Gallery Director Kat Griefen. Ms. Scott presented some interesting statistics on the value of woman artists compared to men, but it was gallery owner Claire Oliver whose slide with four photos of paintings struck me most. She asked “can you tell which paintings are by women artists?” The answer was all four, and so not a real test of telling them apart from those of male artists. Still, if most people buy their art for it’s visual statement or visual pleasure and it’s not easy to discerne who painted it, who is to be blamed for the price discrepancy? The buyers? Or the dealers? It may be undervalued, but it would seem that it could be women artists are at the greatest disadvantage when art is bought for investment purposes.
Still, as I look around at the paintings in my room, all by little-known artists, only one I know for certain to have been painted by a woman. Her name was Eleanor Simms Black, a Pittsburgh artist from the 1930s. During the discussion I was thinking of other women artists from Pittsburgh, Lila B. Hetzel and Johanna Woodwell Hailman, both who took up art after their relatively, locally at least, famous parents, George Hetzel and Joseph Ryan Woodwell. I don’t believe either have auction records matching their parents, but neither has George Inness Jr. matched his father in terms of auction records.
It was a very interesting discussion, but it’s very difficult to make sense of much of it. This is because it’s very difficult to compare art or artists, or to factor in what part of a work of art can be attributed to the gender, sex or even personality attributes of the artist. Art, good art anyway, must stand by itself. It was Sister Wendy who said the most enjoyable art is that which has lost the identity of the artist.
Society has in many instances hindered the success of one group or another, but to compare a work by a female artist one by a male contemporary (or to another female artist) is just not practical or useful. Only with averages can we make any such comparison, and then we can only compare groups of artists as comparing groups of paintings is equally rediculous. As much as we like to see the value of art in auction records, fair or not, time is the only real judge of value in the art world. Any statistics from the present day will ultimately be lost.