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A Call for Gender Equity in the Art World

Claire Oliver gallery, poster by Madeline Stone.

On View
The Gallery Tally Poster Project


  1. Gallerists select work based on “quality,” not gender.
  2. Work by male artists sells better.
  3. Not as many women want to be artists.
  4. Women just don’t market themselves as well as men do.
  5. Women leave their practice to have families. Is your blood boiling yet? Or, maybe your head is just spinning. Is your blood boiling yet? Or, maybe your head is just spinning.

In fall of 2013 I began the Gallery Tally project—a collaborative, crowd-sourced endeavor to tally and visualize statistical data pertaining to the numbers of male and female artists who were represented by top contemporary art galleries. Participants were invited via a Facebook group and data was collectively tallied in a public Google doc. I put out an open call for people to visualize the data that we had collected in the form of posters. Artists have now made nearly 400 of these posters, each representing the statistics for one gallery. The posters are uploaded to a Tumblr, and have been physically presented in public exhibitions. To date, there are over 1,200 participants in the Facebook group, from 10 different countries. The Google doc is tracking over 500 galleries in 17 international cities. Of the more than 4,100 artists tallied, the total ratio of male to female artists is 70 percent to 30 percent, respectively. Anecdotally, many of my art-world colleagues believed there to be inequity in the art world, but no one could cite any numbers. They knew it was not equal, but no one knew just how bad it still was. The Gallery Tally project was conceived of as a consciousness-raising effort, in the spirit of ’70s-era feminists who worked together to create community, discourse, and change. How is it that in 2014, the numbers regarding female artists in the gallery system are only marginally better than they were when the Guerilla Girls began counting in the 1980s? And the stats for artists of color are worse still.

There is a long and important history in the use of posters as a medium of communication and protest, including social(ist) activism, the ’60s Civil Rights movement, the punk scene in the ’70s, the Guerilla Girls in the ’80s (and on). I was also inspired by the use of posters by artists such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Posters are a democratic medium—they are accessible, cheap, and easy to produce. One doesn’t need special skills or materials to make a poster. I wanted it to be easy for anyone to participate in the Gallery Tally project, and to help publicize the data. It is important that the project provide a platform for artists to respond to and represent this data in a creative manner. Though the numbers are dismal, the project has yielded a positive and productive response, creating community and solidarity in the process. 

With contemporary computing, the Internet, and evolving research methods, big data has come into the spotlight lately, and there seems to be a concurrent boom in the cultural interest in numbers, data, and analysis. The pop culture equivalent of this can be seen in the myriad quizzes and algorithms that pepper our social media feeds. Given this climate, it seemed like a good time to launch a statistical inquiry into the data that defines and describes the demographics of the art world.

Before the Gallery Tally project began, I had been tallying ads in Artforum. I counted the number of full-page ads for a single artist. Artforum is arguably the leading art magazine in the U.S., and a single page ad for one month costs an average of $10,000. It’s a significant investment. For a gallery to take out such an ad gives some indication of which artists they are choosing to most actively support and promote. Month after month, the numbers showed that between 70 – 90 percent of the full-page, single artist ads celebrated male artists.

Publications are still an important means of documenting and archiving an artist’s life and achievements for future generations. Page real estate in the form of catalogues, brochures, ads, and articles still matters in the validation and historicization of artists. While a single ad may seem incidental in the bigger picture, the fact that women are consistently left out of history is much more significant. If the records show that 70 percent (or more) of printed materials are dedicated to male artists, what will future generations think of our creative class today?

In response to the points mentioned at the beginning of this essay:

1. Gallerists select work based on “quality,” not gender.
If we assume that “gender plays no role,” then what does it say that based on quality alone, 70 percent of the artists chosen for gallery representation are male? That art by males is just better? Do we really believe that? There has been debate about affirmative action for decades; a fear of simply filling quotas for the sake of righting the numbers. There are many factors that influence who gets picked up by a gallery, and it’s time that we recognize that women and artists of color are still disadvantaged in this selection process for too many reasons. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if galleries were more conscious of the demographics that they are and are not representing. By underrepresenting major portions of the population, we all lose out by not having exposure to their work.

2. Work by male artists sells better.
Work by women is still undervalued in nearly every field. Women still make an average of $0.77 to the male dollar nationwide. In the major art auctions, women bring in $0.12 to the dollar compared to their male counterparts. It’s time that we demand that collectors, curators, gallerists, and auction houses value art by women and people of color as equal to that of any other artist.

3. Not as many women want to be artists.
Women comprise 51 percent of the population in the United States. Research shows that 70 – 80 percent of the student body in BFA programs in Southern California, and 65 – 70 percent of MFA programs in Southern California are made up of women. The numbers are likely comparable in New York and other cities. Since it is nearly impossible to get gallery representation without an MFA, it seems safe to assume that the majority of these female art students do in fact want to be artists.

4. Women just don’t market themselves as well as men do.
In the art world, as in business, academia, and elsewhere, women are still considered bitchy, aggressive, and threatening when they promote themselves, whereas men are lauded as being assertive and ambitious. It is time to dismantle this double standard and support and encourage women in having an equal voice.

5. Women leave their practice to have families.
Don’t men have families too?

It is my hope that with the Gallery Tally, the art world at large will acknowledge and address the shameful inequities that plague our contemporary mechanisms of cultural production. While some may still not see these numbers as problematic, if they are known and publicized, perhaps the next time a gallerist, collector, curator, or writer embarks on their next project, they will consciously or subconsciously take their own tally of who is being left out. We all deserve to have an art world that proportionately reflects the demographic that is creating it.

Feature Inc. gallery, poster by Ellina Kevorkian.

Bitforms gallery, poster by Jamie McMurry.

Team Gallery, poster by Cindy Rehm.

Peter Blum gallery, poster by TRACK.

Agency Contemporary, poster by Sofia Londono.

Artifact gallery, poster by Kelsey Hart.

Honor Fraser, poster by Cathy Akers.

Gavin Brown Enterprise, poster by Annie Wharton.

Winkleman Gallery, poster by Robert Fontenot.

Corbett v. Dempsey, poster by Kathryn Drury.

Mary Boone gallery, poster by Mira Safura O’Brien.

Galerie Perrotin, poster by Ría Vanden Eynde.

PPOW gallery, poster by Cindy Rehm.

Vancouver Art Gallery, poster by Sandra Harris.

Peter Fetterman gallery, poster by Alex Miller and Sarah Wiliams

Elizabeth Harris gallery, poster by Caesar Alzate.

32.3% Full, poster by Cara Despain, representing the overall percentage of women artists in LA and NYC galleries, as researched by the Gallery Tally project.

Whitney Biennial 2014, by Siobhan Hebron.

The Proposition gallery, poster by Joni Spigler.

Koenig & Clinton gallery, poster by Lisa Oxley.

Pace gallery, poster by Carrie Yury.

Regen Projects, poster by Siobhan Hebron.

David Zwirner gallery, poster by Ken Ehrlich. All images for Micol Hebron’s Gallery Tally project.


    The statements above were direct quotes from among 150 gallerists that I interviewed in Miami during Art Week, 2013

For more information on the Gallery Tally project, please visit:



Micol Hebron

MICOL HEBRON is an associate professor of art at Chapman University in Orange, CA. She is a feminist, artist, curator, writer, and organizer living in Los Angeles.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2014

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