Saturday, January 06, 2018

Gender bias in Government Art Collection?

Is there a gender bias in the Government's Art Collection in terms of the percentage acquisition of artwork by male artists?

The Guardian today accuses the government of having a very marked gender bias in terms of recent acquisitions

Here's the accusations (as alleged/reported in The Guardian)

In 'Institutional' male bias in government's art collection, says Labour
  • 265 works by men and just 80 by women were collected over the last five years for which data is available, between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016
  • more than 70% of works acquired during the period were by male artists - even after bulk acquisitions of work by male artists are excluded
  • re. works purchased (rather than donated) between 2011/12 to 2015/16, more than 70% were created by male artists and 27% by female artists, with the rest unknown or made collectively by studios.
  • the government’s art collection was 'not setting the right example.'
This issue is gathering pace. The Guardian also commented on it last year.
Guardian research showed last year a strong gender imbalance in works displayed in commercial and public galleries. Female artists account for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection; 20% of the Whitworth Manchester’s and 35% of Tate Modern’s collections. Only 33% of the artists representing Britain at the Venice Biennale over the past decade have been women.
Looking for some leadership within the ranks.....
Frances Morris, the director of Tate Modern, who has said its permanent collection representing 335 female artists compared with 959 male artists is “just not good enough”, would not comment on the government art collection or its acquisitions policies.

Here's the links to the reports on recent acquisitions

Below are links to the reports where you can read the names of the artists whose work has been bought by the Government

GAC Annual Report and Acquisitions Lists (Adobe Acrobat PDF format.)

The official DCMS Comment

Add caption
A DCMS spokesperson said: 
“The government art collection is a strong supporter of women artists. Almost half the artists that had work purchased by the GAC [Government Art Collection] between 2011 and 2016 were women, and it will continue to promote a diverse range of British artists that have a strong connection with our country.”
So obviously people are reading different reports, or comparing apples and pears or can't add up.

Or are we talking about one figure (The Guardian) relating to ARTWORKS and another (DCMS) relating to ARTISTS?

So it looks like it's "apples and pears".

The distinction between purchases and donations

Certainly the report suggests a number are donations.

That's because being able to say your work is included in a government collection enables you to hike your prices to the ordinary art collector - because you now have added 'street cred.'
I like to think - but don't know - that the acquisition process includes a means of vetting whether the artist and the artwork are any good.

Otherwise one might suspect artists of getting rid of artwork that won't sell...

Or it is taking up space needed for other artwork.

What's also needed is transparency over the cost of acquisition

In the spirit of transparency which applies to ALL contractual transactions and ALL salaries over a certain amount in the public sector, we should also be able to monitor the amount spent on artworks and artists by gender.

The sums spent are in the listings - but nobody is totting them up.

Also the values of artwork transferred from HMRC in payment of death duties is NOT currently stated

Just to be fair to everybody - and accountable to the punters who pay the taxes which buys the art I think the GAC could go the extra mile....

The Solution

The solution is:
  • the government acquisition's policy needs to be explicit as to gender issues
  • the GAC Reports need to be explicit as to:
    • number and percentage of ARTWORKS acquired - re gender
    • number and percentage of ARTISTS whose work was bought - re. gender
    • numbers and percentages re. purchases and donations
    • the value and percentage of SPEND - by gender (including the transfer values with respect to artist's estates)
ALL publicly funded services ought to be accountable based on 
  • the same standards applicable to the expenditure of public money elsewhere and 
  • the conduct of public services.

REFERENCE: Previous posts


  1. I wonder what the ratio of women to men currently working as artists is? I suppose there is no way of calculating this?

  2. I think you'll find it varies depending on what sort of art you produce. Some sorts of art seem to be dominated by men while others are dominated by women.

    The selected artists lists for art competitions are a good indication of the sort of artist who is trying to make a career of their art - as a practising visual artist.


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