“Women don’t paint so well” … or do they?

Georg Baselitz (*1938) expressed the following about women in art in a Spiegel interview from 2013: “Women do not paint so well. That is a fact. There are exceptions, of course. Agnes Martin or from the story Paula Modersohn-Becker. Whenever I see a picture of her, I’m happy. But she is no Picasso either, no Modigliani, no Gauguin either.” That this, however, was rather a possibility to provoke again, and was not meant to be completely serious, you notice when you read on. When the language comes to Marina Abramović, he says: “She has talent, like many women by the way. A painter doesn’t need all that. It’s better not to get anything out of it.

What is actually a fact, however, is the fact that female artists still have a harder time on the art market than their male counterparts. Although on average more women than men complete art studies, according to a study by the German Cultural Council in 2016, only one in three works of art acquired by museums still comes from a woman. According to the studio “Studio Berlin II” of the IFSE, the gender pay gap is 21% nationwide, in Berlin even 28%. While artists earn an average of 11,600 euros a year, which is not exactly luxurious, their colleagues only earn about 8,400 euros. In German galleries, only about 25 percent of the artists exhibited are female, 75 percent male.

When I presented such figures in a lecture about a year ago, a former museum director surprisingly took the floor and actually defended the situation. According to her, the artists went into “maternity part-time” at some point, which caused their market value to fall considerably. With men, one could be more certain of one’s investment. As long as such voices can make themselves heard, it looks gloomy with equal rights.

By the end of the 19th and 20th centuries at the latest, numerous female artists were gaining acceptance. The works of art hardly differ from those of their male colleagues. Yet Auguste Rodin in front of Camille Claudel, Wassily Kandinsky in front of Gabriele Münter, and Alexej Jawlenski in front of Marianne von Werefkin are often mentioned first. Many female artists were forgotten in the course of art history, which had long been dominated by men, and today have to be “rediscovered”. After all, it has been progressing since this year at the latest. In my opinion, a very positive example was the exhibition “Lotte Laserstein. From Face to Face”, which was on view at the Städel in Frankfurt until mid-March.

For some years now, many museums have been increasingly presenting works of art by female artists from their holdings in permanent and special exhibitions. This year, for example, Tate Britain in London is showing works by women without exception in the field of art after 1960. Whether this fundamental separation is actually effective, however, will only become apparent over time. The approach of the Museum der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig, which since 2017 has set itself the goal of achieving a balanced gender relationship in its selection of artists, seems more sensible to me. Nevertheless, only a few women have made it into the list of the most successful artists so far. They are more successful than in previous years, but not as successful as the men in the business.