A study published this spring by The City University of New York’s Guttman College argued that the art world remains predominantly white and male. Nearly 70 percent of the artists represented at 45 prominent New York galleries were male, the study suggested.
One exception to this trend is Yancey Richardson, who represents 18 women and 25 men. The women on Richardson’s roster include Terry Evans, Lisa Kereszi, Laura Letinsky, Zanele Muholi, Mickalene Thomas and Bertien van Manen, who, as Richardson told PDN, sell just as well as her male artists. We interviewed Richardson as we researched the September Diversity Issue of PDN and asked her about representing women and whether or not collectors and curators display bias against women artists. Richardson also spoke about the challenges women face in the art world, about a younger generation of curators who are working to improve gender and racial diversity in museum collections, and about current opportunities for gallerists and curators to promote artists who may have been previously overlooked by a more white-male-centric art world of the past.
Photo District News: Women are still underrepresented on the rosters of New York art galleries. Your roster is more balanced between men and women artists, however. Is that by design?
Yancey Richardson: It happened organically. I really do not select my artists according to any kind of formulaic program. It is completely driven by my response to the work—the freshness of the ideas, the intellectual approach, the execution of the object. It just so happens that I have, I think, a really strong stable of women artists.
PDN: Is there a perception that collectors or curators favor male artists?
YR: I don’t think so. If anything, we sometimes run across either a collector who is specifically interested in collecting women artists, or museums that are trying to balance their collections. In the past say, two to five years, a younger generation of curators is coming into positions at museums and they’re assessing the collections. They’re seeing that they have a deficit of work by women, work by artists of color—that the work is not diversified, that they have all white male artists represented in the collection.
I have found that some curators are expressing interest in work, and then telling me subsequently that they are trying to build up that aspect of the collection—they’re looking for work by really strong female artists. But I by no means find that there’s a discriminatory attitude on the part of collectors against women artists where they’re dismissed in any way.
I don’t know if there’s some subtle discrimination on the part of collectors that I’m not recognizing, but I would say what we see for the most part is people coming in and just responding to the work. Our bestselling artist right now is a female artist. The bottom line is that my female artists sell as well as my male artists.
[The impression of bias] might be a holdover from some other time. I don’t know. I just don’t understand it. And we have these amazing women gallerists like Marian Goodman, who is extraordinary, or Sprüth Magers in Europe. I do feel that the art world is one where the female gallerists have really been able to make a mark.
PDN: Do you find that women curators are making more of an effort to support women artists?
YR: I can’t say that I’ve seen that there’s a particular sensitivity on the part of female curators to balance the collection that way versus their male counterparts.
PDN: There’s been a lot of discussion about women balancing career goals and family goals. How do you see that playing out in the art industry?
YR: I think that women have a particular hurdle because many women want to be mothers, and unless you are a mother you just cannot conceive of the amount of time and energy that goes into being a mother. It’s just different than being a father, it just is. That can really slow some of the female artists down and it’s just the reality of it. You can’t travel the way that you would [if you are a male artist]. Some artists [rely on travel to] make their work. It’s a very global [art] world now so [artists are] traveling to be at every exhibition, to give lectures all over the place, to participate in biennials, things like that. It’s hard to do that and do that other job [of being a mother], so that might undermine some women. It doesn’t mean they’re not making the same quality of work and it doesn’t mean that there isn’t appreciation of their work, they just can’t push their agenda forward in the same way. And I’m a mother, so I’m just speaking from experience.
PDN: Does gender diversity come up in your conversations with your gallerist colleagues?
YR: It doesn’t come up. I think if anything, one might have the opportunity to “rediscover” an extraordinary female artist from an earlier generation that’s been overlooked. As I’m thinking out loud, and I’ve not had this thought before, that there’s probably a real opportunity there. Like Carol Lee Schneeman. She won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale this year. She’s an artist that’s been around making work for a long time, but nobody was really doing that much with her until first P.P.O.W. and then P.P.O.W. in collaboration with Gallery LeLong. Or say Barbara Kasten, who was rediscovered as a hero of all these younger artists doing studio-based work along the lines of abstraction. I could go on and on with examples.
One of the things that is going on is that people are looking for these artists that have been previously overlooked, and I think a chunk of them are women. It was harder for them, and I’m not saying it’s easier now, but it might be a little easier now and people are more sensitive to artists that have been overlooked. There is also a huge interest right now in artists of color that have been making great work all along and just weren’t being looked at.
PDN: Is that interest coming in response to what collectors are asking about, or as a response to the zeitgeist?
YR: Part of it is the appetite maybe of the market and trying to break some fresh ground. I know as a dealer I’m certainly interested in younger artists, but sometimes they’re not so well-formed when they’re young, they need some time to clarify their ideas, strengthen their practice, right? So the other thing that can be interesting is an artist who has now got two or three or four decades of art making under their belt and maybe they were a maverick when they first came on the scene and then the spotlight shifted somewhere else or the zeitgeist shifted, and they’re still making their work and they’re still good.
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