This is Part 5 of our summary report on Paris Photo 2017.
Part 1 of the report (here) explains the rationale behind the decision to feature only female photographers this year and includes an explanation of the format used in the detailed slideshow below. So while it is certainly possible to jump directly into any one of the individual reports, start back at the beginning if you want to understand the context. Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 is here, and Part 4 is here.
A few closing thoughts.
This exercise of placing a gender filter across the offerings of an art fair raises a couple of intriguing discussion points. First, when deliberately looking only at works by women, as a collector, did I find any less newness or innovation on offer? The quantitative answer is an emphatic no. In fact, we added more than 30 new artists to the Collector Daily artist index with these five summary posts (meaning that these photographers had never before been covered by us in any shape or form), more than we generally do at other fairs where we have balanced the gender coverage. So the conclusion is that by searching out the work by women, I most definitely evaded a rut of looking for and seeing pictures that I expect to see or have seen before.
Which brings me to a second, and somewhat thornier, point. While fair organizers like to tell collectors that an art fair is (or should be) something like a refined museum experience, we’re not confused – it is a bazaar, or a supermarket, or for lack of a better or more clever analogy, a business. And when I pressed a few gallery owners about why they didn’t have any (or more) work by women on the walls of their booths, several gave me versions of the same answer – we’re not here to make a historical argument or even to entertain, we’re here to sell work, and we’ve put up what we think (or hope) we can sell. The unspoken corollary to this line of thinking is that the work of women just doesn’t sell as well, which I’m not sure I believe.
Part of the issue is that work needs to be seen to be sold, and not enough work by women photographers (or artists of color, or other overlooked artistic groups) is being shown in these kinds of situations and venues. As a collector, often what I am looking for at an art fair is new discoveries – photographs that I haven’t been exposed to in my normal travels through the New York gallery and museum circuit. I want artworks to catch my eye, and then to let gallery directors use their knowledge, expertise, and connoisseurship to educate me about these pictures and artists (regardless of whether they are vintage or contemporary) so I can make my own trade-offs. But it’s pretty hard to discover the work of women artists if it isn’t on display – pictures hidden in the closet or left at home don’t do a very good job of gathering the serendipitous attention of distracted international collectors rushing by. So we’re back to gallery owners needing to show more work by women in order to actually generate the interest that leads to sales, in a kind of chicken and egg circular trap.
What this really comes down to is collectors exercising our voices in this community – demanding to see more work by women, and then speaking with our wallets. I guarantee that if enough collectors walk into art fair booths around the world and consistently wonder aloud where the superlative, important, ground-breaking, world-changing work by women is, more gallery owners will take notice and the mix will start to (slowly) change. While we might like to fault the gallery owners for not showing us an array of work better balanced by gender, we only have ourselves as collectors (and museum curators and accessions committees and people with money to spend) to blame – they’re simply showing us what we have implicitly or overtly told them that we want to see (and buy).
The good news here is that we as collectors have the power and influence to help push this issue in the right direction. My gender-filtered travels through the halls of Paris Photo have made this clear to me. If collectively we want to see more work by women at art fairs (and represented more broadly in the art world), we need to stubbornly keep asking to see it.