By Chen Guang
The growth of Art Basel in Hong Kong is a sign of the art world expanding beyond its traditional European focus. But such paradigm shift might have yet crossed cover the territory of gender in the art world, despite the growing numbers of women representation in all fields of art.
The war of genders centred Intelligence Squared’s recent debate on the sidelines of Art Basel, which debated the motion the “The art world is a boy’s club”. Arguing for the motion were Frances Morris, head of collection: international arts at London’s Tate Modern and Gregor Muir, executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Historically, the creation of art has largely been the preserve of men, and recent decades have witnessed a growing number of women join the art world.
“Those female artists tend to avoid traditional areas of practice because it’s so owned by men,” Morris said. “You get great female artists in forms of art, like performance and installations, that are difficult to bring to the market.” In other words, female artists find it difficult to monetise their work, Morris said. As a matter of fact, women earn about a third less than their male counterparts.
Arguing against the motion, Charles Guarino, publisher of Artforum International Magazine, said dozens of women took top positions in museums, publications, auction houses and various institutions in the art world. “Since long ago, women have controlled all the show,” Guarino said, adding that men who thought gender alone could get them ahead in art were “delusional”.
Also arguing against the motion was Elaine Kwok, Asia director of Christie’s Education. While she acknowledged that there were more male than female collectors “their decision are largely influenced by auctioneers, curators, critics and other professionals, most of whom are female”. And Kwok said there were complicated reasons behind the relative lack of female curators – not all of which were directly related to the world of art. “There is a trend that many women choose to give up their work after they have children, which is an issue stands beyond the art world.”
While gender imbalance remains a reality, Kwok argued, things have improved for women in the art world to a greater extent than in business, with its glass ceilings. And it seemed Kwok and Guarino won over the audience. Polled before the debate, 56 per cent of those present were in favour of the motion, 23 per cent against and 21 per cent undecided. After the debate, 49 per cent were in favour and 50 per cent again.