Commercial New York Art Galleries Are Primarily White and Male, a New Study Finds

Another study concludes that women and people of color are disadvantaged in the art marketplace.
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Another study concludes that women and people of color are disadvantaged in the art marketplace.
A gallery show opening in New York City.

A gallery show opening in New York City.

A new, non-peer-reviewed study of representation in the arts has concluded that 80.5 percent of artists represented at 45 top commercial art galleries in New York City are white, and 70 percent are male.

The study, conducted by students at the City University of New York's Guttman College, surveyed art galleries that "actively" participate in major art fairs (where galleries often sell their work) and have "a historically strong position in the primary market." Looking at artists publicly represented by those galleries, students recorded age, nationality, education, and perceived gender and race data.

Students found that, among artists of color, black (5.9 percent) and Asian artists (7.9 percent) were the most highly represented by New York galleries; South Asian (0.2 percent), Pacific Islander (0.2 percent), and Native American (0.1 percent) artists were the least represented. Nearly half of all represented artists had Master of Fine Arts or Master of Arts degrees; among those with MFAs, the most-represented school was Yale University, at 19 percent affiliation (and which has a $36,359 tuition for the 2016–17 academic year).

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The CUNY researchers note that they did not contact artists to determine how they self-identify in terms of race and gender. Instead, they looked at how publications (including gallery statements, press coverage, and artists' writings) referred to those artists, when available.

The CUNY team argues that public perception of an artist's race and gender—regardless of how they self-identify—matters. "Discrimination and representation are most commonly based on how race and gender are percieved [sic] by those with the power to discriminate and represent," they write.

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These findings, moreover, dovetail with pre-existing, often informal research into gender representation in commercial art galleries. In 2014, Gallery Tally, which tracks gender statistics in individual galleries, found that women constituted 32.3 percent of artists represented in galleries in Los Angeles and New York; the Countess Report—which tracks galleries in Australia—found that women constituted 39.86 percent of artists in galleries.

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The CUNY researchers also offer new insight into racial representation in commercial galleries, which is less studied. A 2015 survey found that people of color represent only 16 percent of art directors, curators, conservators, and educators, while a 2007 survey found that between 88 and 100 percent of exhibitions at major galleries in New York—including the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney—exhibited only white artists in group and solo shows.

The CUNY researchers have provided a spreadsheet of their data in the study, and promise to review and correct data where applicable.

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