Denmark is number one when it comes to Nordic gender discrimination in contemporary art.
Contribution to debate in the Danish newspaper in Politiken,
15 November 2020, by Augusta Atla
When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.
I was delighted when I read that this year the executive board of Chart Art Fair had decided to present an art fair featuring exclusively female artists. But can an art fair like Chart, which lasts a mere three days, make an impact on the remaining 362 days of a year? Going forward, can it make any difference vis-à-vis Denmark’s deeply-entrenched male chauvinist structure?
Denmark is number one when it comes to Nordic gender discrimination in contemporary art. Take a look at the galleries participating in Chart Art Fair 2020, Denmark is the most sexist in the Nordic region. If we look at the Chart galleries by country and count how many female artists they have on their books, this is what we see: Denmark: 26%, Norway: 36%, Iceland: 37%, Finland: 38%, Sweden: 46%.
Nor, when it comes to the purchase by Danish museums of works by female artists, are the figures particularly promising. From 2004 to 2019, the number of acquisitions of works by female artists was 22%, while the number of female artists given solo shows in Denmark was 29%.
Unfortunately, the international figures are also very negative for women. From 2008 to 2019, only 2% of the total sales at art auctions were works by women. At international art fairs and galleries, female artists account for between 0 and 30% of the artists represented. At the largest art fair in the world, Art Basel, female representation has been less than 25% in the last four years.
In this day and age, we need to articulate this perpetual misogynistic trend and cultural heritage instead of preserving the illusion and pretending that the problem does not exist. The problem is permanent and grave, and results in the loss of an abundance of artistic quality. Furthermore, by virtue of the ingrained discriminatory structures in Denmark, our approach to research is decidedly unsubtle. Both in Denmark and abroad, countless talented female artists are overlooked or simply erased from history.
How do we change these deeply-rooted routines, in which curators, museum directors, gallerists, heads of art galleries, press representatives, journalists and art collectors – including women in power – and even (in their day-to-day practice) the Danish Chart galleries opt out of showing female artists?
The art market is still a boys’ club. This means that many female artists are only discovered when they are dead or turn 80.
Today, the question is whether, despite first-wave feminism and women’s right to vote, Europe is ready to accommodate works by women. Is our Western visual culture geared to allow women’s active creativity, their creative aspirations and participation in power, thereby also allowing women, as visual artists, to help create images for our collective heritage and memory?
My generation of visual artists, art historians and curators was brought up on the basis of methods and art history developed and crystallised largely by male chauvinist men and women. Our academic practice in Europe is still failing to add, elucidate and emphasise the importance of female artists to the history of art. The same applies to the curatorial machine, in which we artists are compelled to put our faith.
When will we become genuinely interested in the myriad of amazing, overlooked works created by female artists, not least for the sake of our humanism? When will we truly integrate images into our culture that reflect human diversity and create a unified palette featuring all our voices?