Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Masculinity of Art World Auction Houses

As part of my art gallery management class I’m starting to read Seven Days in the Art World  by Sarah Thornton. The book is sectioned into seven chapters, seven days, detailing very different art world hubs; work seen and written about in magazines, the Venice biennale, the development of the studio visit, and much more.

While reading chapter one, “The Auction”, I noticed a recurring theme; masculine imagery and language as well as an overwhelming feeling of non women-friendly space.

Christie's, New York, 2007

This chapter is about art auction houses, with a focus on Christies in New York. I think that one of the reasons we’re able to sense the male dominance of the auction house is that we’re lucky enough to have a woman’s perspective, Thornton’s; an art historian, sociologist, and writer who has written about the art world for publications such as Artforum, the New Yorker and more.

Throughout the chapter Thornton paints a picture of the auction house as being a somewhat sexual, and almost disturbingly violent experience. We get comparisons to gladiatorial spectacles paired with men likening the thrill of a purchase to sexual conquest, jokes equating the auction house to a whore house. There’s one telling bit where Thornton writes about the auctioneer’s hammer (I don’t want to be that feminist/artist who thinks everything is phallic, but damn. This paragraph was very double entendre-y.) as a passer of judgment and punishment. A carrot dangled in front of the bidders. She writes, “Then, in a blink, he hits everyone but the highest bidder with a stick, as if all the seduction and violence of the art market were represented in the rhythm of a single lot”.

We find a great example in the words of one of Thorntorn’s interviewees, influential art consultant Philippe Ségalot. Ségalot says of his work, “buying is an extremely satisfying, macho act”.

Another interviewee, artist Keith Tyson, says of competitive feel of the auction floor, “The sale is infectious. You feel the thrill of capitalism and you get into a sort of alpha-male mentality”.

The idea of art world buyers as alpha-males is threaded throughout the chapter. Not always explicitly stated, but implied through the language of both Thornton and those she spoke to.

In researching art auction houses, Thornton witnessed the sale of a Marlene Dumas piece for $1.1 million, making Dumas one of the three living women artists (at the time of the sale in 2001, since then several more women have joined the ranks) whose work has been sold for over $1 million. In a footnote Thornton speculates that the gaps in prices between work by male and female artists is due to the largely male dominated field of big-spending collectors undervaluing women’s artwork.

As far as I can tell, this is the piece Thornton was talking about. Titled "Feather Stola" (1953)

Many people think that the art world has attained gender equality. I find that many of my peers think that the art world is actually skewed towards favoring women because of the hugely imbalanced ratio of women to men in art schools. But this is not really the case. While we may have more women going to school pursuing artistic careers we still have a largely male-dominated field in “the real world”. The field of buyers is largely comprised of men, and powerful gallery owners and curators tend to be men as well. So really, the large amounts of women in art schools could be viewed as a bad sign. Because if we’re educating so many women in the arts, why are those same women not able to find work in the field following graduation?  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Pharaoh Hatshepsut: Depictions of a Female King in Egyptian Artwork

Take a look at this sculpture and note the figure’s clothing, position of the body, materials used, and anything else that strikes you as interesting:

Now this one:

Fairly standard Egyptian portraiture, these two sculptures are solid with stiff and rigid poses; both figures adhering to Egyptian canon. Appearing timeless and serene, the main difference seems to be that one is a portrait of a man and one a portrait of a woman. The first, a kneeling man, wears the nemes (headdress of the Pharaoh) and false beard, with clothing typical of an Egyptian male. The second, a seated woman, also wears the nemes and is clothed by a simple, thin shift commonly worn by female Egyptian nobility of the time.

What if I were to tell you that both are portraits of the same person?

Here we see the female Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut, who came to the throne around 1479 BCE and ruled for approximately 22 years.

Queen Hatshepsut has an interesting history. Coming to the throne as Pharaoh regent, she eventually gained full power and is now considered to be one of ancient Egypt’s more successful Pharaohs, with the longest reign of any woman in Egyptian history (Of which there were a surprising amount. Many ruled as regents, but many others ruled in their own right). Hatshepsut reestablished trade with the Land of Punt which brought more wealth to Egypt, and is known to have been a prolific builder, creating many structures throughout Upper and Lower Egypt (Some of which later Pharaohs attempted to claim as their own). She was also very adept at promoting herself, commissioning many artworks which exalted her reopening of trade with Punt.

The Temple of Hatshepsut. Notice how the long flat plane of the building with the vertical lines of the columns parallel the landscape.

Now, you may be wondering why Hatshepsut is depicted in statuary as both a man and a woman. Ancient Egyptians had no word meaning female ruler. The word they had was Pharaoh, which means king, and implies that the title-bearer is a man. While women had ruled as Pharaoh before, they had not done so with great frequency, resulting in no one creating a female form of Pharaoh. In addition to not having a word for a female king, the Egyptians had no standard way of depicting a woman as Pharaoh. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America

I just ran across an incredibly interesting project, Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America. It’s a collection of short films and photographic portraits of queer Americans today.

Cat & Brittany (2009) Read their story here.

The project aim is to paint (Photograph?) a collective portrait of what it now means to be queer in America; the artists, photographer Molly Landreth and videographer Amelia Tovey, sharing with us a group of people living their everyday lives. With this project the artists hope to change certain negative perceptions of the queer community as well as offer queer Americans the opportunity to speak for themselves. The portraits include those living in cities and countrysides, who are old and young, gay, bi, pan, trans and cis. They include people from a variety of backgrounds with greatly differing sexual and gender identities. They’re creating a diverse portrayal of queer America and expanding our knowledge of the queer community in general. 

Travis at Gay Skate (2005). Read Travis's story here.

The site is releasing portraits and films, including this trailer of a film they’re working on, throughout the year.  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

What I Learned from A Gallery Internship

Interning with Union Street Gallery is arguably the best decision I made this summer (and it was a pretty great summer!). Not only did I gain valuable experience working in a gallery and a nonprofit, I learned more about communication, project management, and the relationships between galleries and artists.

The gallery exterior. It's a beautiful old building in Chicago Heights.

First I’d like to talk a little bit about how I got the position. I know that internship hunting can be intimidating; It’s difficult to find opportunities that fit your interests and even more difficult to find them in your area.

Luckily for me I was already aware of Union Street Gallery; they host the annual exhibit for my high school’s AP studio artists. I just looked up the website and found information on their internships, crafted a cover letter, edited my resume, and emailed both to the administrator (Jessica, who is awesome!). I heard back from her shortly after, and we emailed back and forth to set up a time for a phone interview.

And then… the conversation fizzled. We had missed one scheduled appointment for the interview and another one was not really in the works. I was starting to worry that I wasn’t going to be able to work with the gallery over the summer.

I emailed Jessica again and found that they had found an intern who was able to work year-round (although I think that due to personal issues he’s no longer doing so), which explained the unfortunate fizzling. However, she had really enjoyed my cover letter and asked if I would still like to intern with them over the summer! And thus it began!

It just goes to show that you should follow up on opportunities. For a while I considered letting it go and just applying to other positions, but I did reconnect with the gallery and I’m glad that I did.

So I suppose the learning started during the application process. As for what I learned during the internship itself, I don’t know if I could cover it all in one post! I was given the opportunity to co-curate a small show with the other intern (Which you can see here. Apologies for the poor picture quality. We had to rush to take the photos and get them on Facebook prior to the event) as well as helping with the curation of a silent auction towards the end of the summer. In addition, I was able to observe and work with gallery artists, volunteers, and more in hanging the shows.

While the shows I co-curated were fairly small, we also had some big events this summer! Union Street was lucky to exhibit the work of Sergio Gomez, a Chicago based artist and owner of 33 Contemporary Gallery as well as the founder of Visual Art Today, an online exhibition featuring contemporary international art. You can find his website here.

There's a policy of not taking photographs in the gallery and putting them online, but this is directly from the facebook page so I think it isn't a problem. This is a partial view of the gallery space.

Preparing for the show took a lot of work. We had to patch and repaint the gallery walls, bring in the work, hang it, light it, put out press releases notifying the public of the show, and much more! It was a great experience, one that taught me a lot about a number of different aspects of the gallery world.

Here’s a video Gomez put online about the show:

In addition to the Gomez show we had an exhibition for Union Street Gallery’s guild artists and artist members. This show was a very different experience as we were communicating with many different artists as opposed to one. The resulting show was much more eclectic in nature, and it required much more effort to get the artists to give us their work’s information and to bring in their work! One of the things I learned from this show in particular was that artists often need a lot of prodding to fill out forms, follow deadlines, things of that nature. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

“David, Not a Feminist”: Paintings Depicting Charlotte Corday’s Assassination of Marat

I’m excited to say that I started taking Survey of Western Art and Architecture yesterday. I’m looking forward to refreshing my memory of (and learning more about) western art history as well as applying a more critical eye to works of art and participating more in discussion of the work.

One of the things I really found interesting in the first class was discussion of the portrayal of Charlotte Corday in paintings of the assassination of Marat. A lot of you are likely familiar with this painting:

Jacques Louis David's "The Death of Marat" (1793)

This is a very well known piece by David, a neoclassical artist as well as an active supporter of the French Revolution. I’ll freely admit that although multiple teachers in multiple classes (both history and art) have taught the subject of this painting, it’s never really stuck until now. Marat was one of the leaders of the revolution. Very controversial in his tactics, he was recognized as both an influential, passionate orator and a violent, dangerous figure. Charlotte Corday believed him to be the latter. She felt that his aggressive actions in pushing for revolution would lead only to a regime filled with violence and death. Because of these beliefs, Corday sent Marat a letter claiming to have information useful to the revolution, gained access to his quarters, and then stabbed him in his bathtub.

What interests me is the variety of ways artists depict Corday. Notice how Corday is not included in David’s image. She’s represented instead by her letter to Marat, clutched in his hand.

Why is this? Corday was very much a part of the event. She was central to what happened. So why would she be excluded from the image?

My teacher presented a number of explanations for her exclusion. As a supporter of the revolution and of Marat, David was asked to paint this portrait following his death. And as a supporter, he depicted Marat as a martyr. Notice the soft light washing over Marat’s figure in comparison to the harsh light falling upon Corday’s note. See how Marat looks peaceful and healthy in death, although truthfully he was often violent and suffered from a malady of problems (which led him to take hours long baths, explaining why he was in the tub when he was assassinated). Marat is presented as someone innocent, someone graceful and elegant even in death. If Corday was included in this image it would detract from Marat’s importance. But not only would it distract from Marat, it would highlight the fact that someone, a woman, disagreed with Marat’s views. And how could a woman be so against Marat’s viewpoints that she would murder him? It went against the revolution’s very idea that women should be in the home, raising perfect little patriots. If a simple woman (let alone a purportedly beautiful woman) disagreed with Marat then why shouldn’t others?

And of course, as my teacher said, “David, not a feminist”. David felt that women were unimportant and didn’t want to depict one in a position of power in his work. We see this in other images of his, such as The Oath of the Horatii, in which he depicts men as sturdy, strong, and brave, while women are weak and weeping, all slumping curves compared to the men’s determined and powerful lines. Not to mention how the women physically take up far less space than the men. They’re presented as much smaller in stature and take up only 1/3 of the painting.

Jacques Louis David's "The Oath of the Horatii" (1784)

But back to Corday. My teacher compared David’s Death of Marat piece to this:

Paul Baudry's "Charlotte Corday" (1860)

This image presents Corday as the focus. She may be in the corner, with a somewhat worried expression on her face, but she is definitely a participant in the event. You look at Corday first and then you notice Marat, slumped in the bathtub. There’s an interesting flipping of perspective here. In David’s painting Marat is the graceful, angelic martyr. In Baudry’s painting it’s Corday, pictured as sweet and beautiful, someone who could not be guilty of murder for no good reason.

Take a look at some other paintings depicting Corday’s assassination of Marat: Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Winslow Homer’s Tumultuous Seas and Passive Women (via Visual Tidbits for the Culturally Curious)

This is a great post on Winslow Homer’s depiction of men and women in his work. It has a particularly interesting discussion of how Homer creates the sense of water as a place for men and a volatile place for women.

I’ve never reblogged anything on WordPress before, but this is such a great read I just had to share. Click through!

Winslow Homer's Tumultuous Seas and Passive Women This post is really a shameless plug for my own research, but hopefully you’ll find it somewhat interesting.  I’m giving a presentation for SCU’s annual Art History Symposium this week about Winslow Homer (an American painter from the late 19th century) and the sexual politics revealed in his seascapes.  Amidst the pinnacle of the women’s suffrage movement, Homer painted a series of large seascapes showcasing fishermen and women from Northeastern … Read More

via Visual Tidbits for the Culturally Curious

Tagged , , ,

Unfinished Art: Guerrilla Girls and Art Education at Hull House

Seriously Chicago? You’re killing me with the whole, “great thing comes to town just when Melissa leaves” thing.

But I guess that’s just the way it goes sometimes. One day I’m lucky enough to run into a festival in Boystown or an interesting art exhibition in Hyde Park, the next I’m quietly glowering at my computer screen in Rochester. You win some, you lose some.

However, for all of you in the Chicago area there’s a great opportunity to learn about feminism in art! Tuesday at 4pm at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum there will be a number of interactive programs about feminism in art and arts education.

The show, Unfinished Business: Arts Education, will include fun opportunities to take advantage of the interrelations of democracy and art by printing and sending postcards to legislators and learning weaving techniques as demonstrated live by weaving a map of Chicago. The show is community curated and promotes the importance of the arts and of cultural rights as a necessity for successful democracy.

And not only will you be able to see this great show, but the Guerrilla Girls will be there.

As many of you likely know, the Guerrilla Girls are sort of like feminist superheroes of the art world. They don guerrilla masks and use humor, interesting design, and hard facts to teach the public about sexism and racism in the arts (not just the visual arts, they have projects dedicated to film, pop culture, politics, etc). 

Basically, the Guerrilla Girls are badasses and you should go to their event where you can learn about the ever popular subject of reinventing the “f” word–feminism.

As if that’s not enough to convince you to go, it’s free! And there will be cupcakes!

So go on then, have fun! Let me live vicariously through you (But really, if you go, take pictures and tell me about it. I’ll pay you back with gratitude and the knowledge that I think you’re awesome!). You can read a little more about Unfinished Business here, and more about the Guerrilla Girls event here.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Smart Women Thirst for Knowledge! (Packing and Procrastinating)

I’m currently in the throes of packing. Organizing tubs of clothing, books, art supplies, and more in a very dramatic and panicked fashion!

And in the middle of packing I rediscovered this:

I think we can all agree that this is the best mug ever! (Pun definitely intended)

That is indeed, my Smart Women Thirst for Knowledge mug. I received it from the Women’s Career Achievement Dinner that RIT’s Center for Women and Gender hosts every year. I was lucky to go, my professor (Dr. Lent, you’re the best!) asked me last minute, something I’m very thankful for because I wouldn’t have known it was happening otherwise.

The dinner was really interesting! I got to meet a ton of new people and hear from a great speaker (This was a while ago, so please forgive any mistakes); the first woman to work in the field researching wildlife in the Amazon’s treetops. She gave a presentation showing the devices she created for climbing the trees and supporting the necessary equipment as well as on the importance of preserving the rain forests. She also spoke about how many people expected her to fail because she is a woman. This includes one male professor who, despite excellent work, told her to choose an easier major as she was going to get married and have kids instead of pursuing a career anyways. There was a collective eye-roll and angry sigh when she told us that story. If any of you are from RIT I would encourage attending the Women’s Career Achievement Dinner come April. Not only do you get a delicious meal, you get to learn more about RIT’s women alums!

But back to this beautiful mug. I’m actually a little upset that I haven’t been using it throughout the summer. But I guess this just means that I’ll have something new and amazing for the school year!

I’d like to share some pictures of other swag I got from the dinner, because it’s pretty much the most earth shatteringly glorious swag ever.

At first just an ordinary ruler...

But turn it around and it becomes Great Women Rulers of Art!

I also got a Smart Women Thirst for Knowledge water bottle. Just... Fantastic.

And that’s all! I just had to share. If you want your own mug you can find it here for $11. You can check out the fun selection of “Great _______ Rulers of the ________ World” here for about $2 each. They don’t just have art themed rulers, they also have literature, music, science, sports, etc.

Tagged , , , , , ,