Get the Facts
“People in the art world want to think we are achieving parity more quickly than we are.” — Susan Fisher Sterling, NMWA Director
The truth is that women have never been treated equally in the art world, and today they remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses. Learn about gender inequity in the arts with some eye-opening facts.
- Nearly half (45.8%) of visual artists in the United States are women; on average, they earn 74¢ for every dollar made by male artists. (National Endowment for the Arts)
- Women working across arts professions make almost $20,000 less per year than men. (Artsy)
- Women in the arts are found not to experience the “motherhood penalty” which in other industries results in a loss or stagnant income after children. But men in the arts do experience the “marriage premium,”—an increase in pay for married men of roughly $7,200 per year that neither women nor single men experience. Men working in the arts also receive an income bump when they become fathers. (Artsy)
- ArtReview’s 2018 Power 100 list of the “most influential people in the contemporary art world” was 40% women—though this is an improvement from 2017 (38%) and 2016 (32%). (Art Review)
- A recent data survey of the permanent collections of 18 prominent art museums in the U.S. found that out of over 10,000 artists, 87% are male, and 85% are white. (Public Library of Science)
- The annual Freelands Foundation report found that at London’s major arts institutions, only 22% of solo shows were by women artists—an 8% decrease from 2016 data. (Freelands Foundation)
- A 2015 special issue of ARTnews on “Women in the Art World” featured a report by curator Maura Reilly revealing a huge gender disparity in solo exhibitions, with few major institutions even reaching 30%, Relatedly, The Art Newspaper reported that of 590 major exhibitions by nearly 70 institutions in the U.S. from 2007–2013, only 27% were devoted to women artists. (ARTnews, The Art Newspaper)
- In the top 20 most popular exhibitions around the world in 2017, only one was headlined by a woman artist: Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul at the National Art Center, Tokyo (The Art Newspaper)
- In a study of 820,000 exhibitions across the public and commercial sectors in 2018, only one third were by women artists. (The Art Newspaper)
- On average, only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries in the U.S. are women. In Australia, it’s about 40%; in China, 25%; in Hong Kong; 22%; and in Germany, less than 20%.
- Only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women. (artnet News)
- In an analysis of the 3,050 galleries in the Artsy database, economist Claire McAndrew found that as much as 10% of galleries have no women on their books at all, while only 8% represent more women than men. Almost half (48%) represent 25% or fewer women. (The Art Newspaper)
- Women make up a majority of professional art museum staff but despite recent gains, they remain underrepresented in leadership positions. (Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2018)
- The good news is that, while in 2005, women ran 32% of the museums in the United States, they now run 47.6%—albeit mainly the ones with the smallest budgets. (Association of Art Museum Directors)
- Women still lag behind men in directorships held at museums with budgets over $15 million, holding 30% of art museum director positions and earning 75¢ for every dollar earned by male directors. (Association of Art Museum Directors)
- The top three museums in the world, the British Museum (est. 1753), the Louvre (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (est. 1870) have never had female directors.
- From the 16–19th centuries, women were barred from studying the nude model, which formed the basis for academic training and representation. (Women, Art, and Society)
- Women earn 70% of Bachelors of Fine Arts and 65–75% of Masters of Fine Arts in the U.S., though only 46% of working artists (across all arts disciplines) are women.
- Though women earn 75% of the art degrees in Australia, they struggle to gain proportional representation. (Countess Report)
- In the U.K., 63% of undergraduates and 66% of postgraduates in creative arts and design are women. (Freelands Foundation)
- As of the first half of 2018, there were only 5 women on Artnet’s list of the 100 best-selling artists at auction. The number of women on this list has fluctuated between just 2 and 6 since 2013. (Artnet Intelligence Report)
- There are no women in the top 0.03% of the auction market, where 41% of the profit is concentrated. Overall, 96.1% of artworks sold at auction are by male artists. (Bocart et al., Glass Ceilings in the Art Market)
- The discount for women’s art at auction is 47.6%; even removing the handful of “superstar” artists that skew the data, the discount is still significant at 28%. (Adams, et al., Is Gender in the Eye of the Beholder?)
- The most expensive work sold by a woman artist at auction, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, sold in 2014 for $44.4 million—over four hundred million dollars less than the auction record for a male artist: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold in 2017 for $450.3 million, shattering the previous record of $179.4 million for a work by Picasso. (artnet News, New York Times)
- The record for the most expensive work by a living woman artist at auction was set in 2018 by Jenny Saville, whose painting Propped (1992) sold for $12.4 million. This sum is still dwarfed, of course, by the record for a living male artist, set in 2019: a Jeff Koons work that sold for $91.1 million. At the same sale where Saville made history, less than 10% of the rest of the works for sale were by women artists.
- The previous four editions of the Venice Biennale featured between 26-43% women artists. The 2019 edition of the major international exhibition of contemporary art finally achieved gender parity, with 53% women artists. (Elephant Art)
- Only 26% of the winners of the Turner Prize, one of the most well known visual art awards, have been women—though 6 women won since 2010. In 2017, Lubaina Himid became the first woman of color to win. (Tate, Hyperallergic)
- Only 27 women (out of 318 artists) are represented in the 9th edition of H.W. Janson’s survey, Basic History of Western Art—up from zero in the 1980s.
- In the field of architecture, only 7% of the Pritzker Prize winners, and less than 3% of AIA Gold Medal winners, were women. (Pritzker Architecture Prize, American Institute of Architects)
The Guerrilla Girls is a group of women artists and arts professionals who fight discrimination.
The group reframes the question: “Why haven’t there been more great women artists throughout Western history?” Instead, they ask: “Why haven’t more women been considered great artists throughout Western history?”
The Guerrilla Girls created the poster, Horror on the National Mall! (shown above), in honor of NMWA’s 20th Anniversary. The poster even highlights our living founder: “Ever wonder why Billie Holladay started the National Museum of Women in the Arts? Now you know!”