Honouring the Women Artists

International Women’s Day. It is a day to remember and honour the women who helped move us forward in the field of equality. As I work away in my studio in what was recently lauded (in two separate studies) as both the most desirable and the most expensive city in the world to live in, I think of myself as a visual artist. Period. Yes, it is perhaps obvious from my work, my history and my surroundings that I am a woman, but I don’t feel I have to address the issue of gender. There is, however, an interesting reality that faces me when I look at the commercial fine art galleries in Vancouver. Women are seriously outnumbered by men when it comes to representation. So, do we operate at a disadvantage when it comes to looking for a commercial institution to herald our work or as a consumer looking for a certain sensibility (if there is indeed one) or is it just a fact that there are less women on the playing field? The so-called level playing field. (See below for a list of eight galleries and the percentage of women that are represented by each gallery. Interesting to note is that the two of eight galleries which show equal or above numbers of women are both owned and run by women dealers.)

I could research for months and years to delve into social history and economics, the relevancy and currency of press coverage, support of government grants, numbers of females enrolling then subsequently graduating from university level fine art courses. Today though, it is not about the facts or the speculation about equality. This is about a few of my favourite women artists and in addressing folks like Ms.Wente when she states in the Globe & Mail that “The war for women’s rights is over. And we won.” I am not suggesting that there should be continued arguing over issues of balance therefore viewing the world as for or against ‘us’, but perhaps we need an ongoing awareness of the situation for women, for women artists, who continue to create significant and ground breaking visual art but are not yet represented equally on the creative playing field therefore making a little more challenging to survive on our work.

The women I am paying tribute today are Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Lee Bontecou, Kiki Smith, Squeak Carnwath and Aurora Robson. I love their work, their tenacity, their organic, imaginative aesthetic. I just love that boundaries were pushed and in the end, challenging yet stunning work was produced. So, it does come down to making, finding, admiring, questioning, supporting and buying great art, regardless of the gender of the artist, perhaps rather than engaging in this so-called war we can continue to learn how to bridge the gap. Meanwhile, I do know this to be true: we have come a long way, baby!

Louise Nevelson, stamps

Louise Bourgeois

Lee Bontecou, in her studio

Kiki Smith

Squeak Carnwath paintings, Oakland Museum

'The Great Indoors', Aurora Robson

Vancouver Galleries, Women to Men ratio, March 2011

Bau-Xi Gallery 28% (of artists represented are women)  –   Catriona Jeffries Gallery 37%  –  Diane Farris Gallery 50%  –  Equinox Gallery 27%  –  Gallery Jones 23%  –  Jacana Gallery 31%  –  Jennifer Kostuik Gallery 58%  –  Monte Clark Gallery 13%  – This means that of these eight galleries (a small over view of commercial galleries in Vancouver), the average percentage of women represented is 33%.

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