Why it’s so hard for women in the art world

According to the Gallery Tally project, male artists represent around 70% of the gallery world, even though 51% of visual artists are women. “[Littlest Sister] was started just because of how underrepresented female artists are … in the institutions, in the museums, in the collections. It’s just a macro problem,” said Anthony Spinello, director of Spinello Projects. The Miami gallery, which just celebrated its tenth year, can take credit for launching the careers of several successful local artists, including Farley Aguilar, Agustina Woodgate, and Aramis Gutierrez.

Spinello Projects is once again hosting Littlest Sister, a female-only art fair running concurrently with Art Basel, which features over 267 galleries visiting from 32 countries.

Having so many galleries in one space is precisely what makes the lack of visibility for female artists — especially local artists — so apparent. “It’s very transparent, specifically in art fairs,” says Spinello. “When you go to one, you see how unbalanced it really is.”

Sofia Bastidas, an independent curator serving as director of Littlest Sister’s fourth edition, thinks the lack of women in the art world “is dictated by the art market, which decides when, who, and how art is collected.”

When Spinello first launched Littlest Sister back in 2007, he realized that collectors and gallerists in town for Art Basel weren’t taking note or paying any attention to the abundant local talent in Miami. “I noticed there was an influx of people coming to Miami, and I was trying to figure out a way to get people to our local galleries,” Spinello said. “I decided if people are coming here for art fairs, then I’ll just create an art fair. It was a fairly simple solution, but it worked. It introduced the local community to an international art crowd.”

This year’s Littlest Sister fair will consist of 10 solo booths by unrepresented female artists in the Miami community, including Cara Despain, AdrienneRose Gionta, Jessie Laino, Tara Long, Ana Mendez, Nun (Jessica Martin and Deon Rubi), Jamilah Sabur, Reed van Brunschot, Juana Valdes, and Clara Varas. There will also be a symposium that will bring together Miami’s most influential women in the arts to examine macro and local gender and race inequality issues in the market.

According to Bastisas, the lack of diversity in the art market has nothing to do with the quality of work, but rather persists as male-dominated because of its historic – though outdated – origins. “One of the most important aspects is the fact that the market is geared historically towards male artists,” she says. “Consider that the world’s masters, names like Michelangelo, Picasso, and countless others, are all men. Women just weren’t encouraged to make art.”

With Littlest Sister, Bastidas is attempting to shine a light on well-known female Miami artists chosen for their experience and sophistication. “All the artists were very carefully selected, and the group is very mixed,” she says. “We have artists working in sculpture, painting, installation, mix media, video, and design.”

One of the more recognized participants in Littlest Sister, artist Cara Despain, will also be featured in the Rubell Family Collection’s NO MAN’S LAND, which features works by over 100 female artists. In NO MAN’S LAND, Despain’s work will be displayed alongside the likes of Cindy Sherman and Cecily Brown, yet Despain continues to struggle with marginalization and underrepresentation as a female artist.

“Galleries, on average, seem to hover around representing 33% females in their rosters, so this means numerically — not hypothetically — we are shown less, sold less, and, on top of netting much less, we do not have a very good chance at keeping pace with men, even if they are at a similar place in their career,” Despain admits. “If you crunch the numbers one to one and look at the consequences of earning less over time, it ultimately means the stakes are higher. Maybe you have less resources available to make ambitious projects and so you don’t as often, or you are more slowly accruing savings, which affects the kind of studio, home, and general stability you can have, or it affects the amount of time you must spend securing other income versus studio time.”

The problem compounds when you add diversity to the mix. Using NO MAN’S LAND as an example, out of the 100 female artists being exhibited, only a handful are women of color or Latin American descent. “Look no further than Carmen Herrera, finally getting her dues at 100 years old,” says Cuban-American artist Clara Varas, whose work has been widely exhibited across Miami and New York, where she earned her visual arts degree. “A lot of good work gets overlooked, but as younger generations, and more women, become gallery owners, curators for biennials, directors, this will hopefully increase representation for women and minorities.”

Bastidas insists that the lack of diversity in the marketplace — whether gender or race — pervades because it’s been programmed that way. “The cultural conditions that have formed in time, the people who are in charge of the art market, and the systems that we have created and continue to support and idealize have created this climate,” she says. “But we are responsible for questioning the cultural conditions that are being put in front of us. … I think that just by looking and thinking of the inequities in the arts, we demand changes in our systems”

Littlest Sister is running until Dec. 6 at Spinello Projects, 7221 NW 2nd Ave., Miami, FL 33150

NO MAN’S LAND is running until May 28 at Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29 St., Miami, FL 33127

By Nicole Martinez
Nicole is a freelance writer and crop top enthusiast based in Miami Beach. A lifelong 305-er, she loves finding new stuff to love in her city everyday.