Mona Lisa, Venus, Girl With A Pearl Earring. True, some of the world’s most iconic art pieces feature women, but famous artists are not called “The Masters” for nothing. Throughout history, artists have resoundingly been men, meaning that, until fairly recently, an absence of female artists has left a void in the way the human experience is depicted. And so it is all the more thrilling that Saatchi, the world-famous London art gallery, this week debuts Champagne Life, an all-female exhibition that showcases the work of 14 living artists.
“We’ve always supported the work of women artists over the years, many of those have gone on to have key roles in the contemporary art world, but I think there’s still a huge amount of work to be done,” said Nigel Hurst, the gallery’s Chief Executive. “Though women artists are far better represented in contemporary art now, in terms of the number of women artists that are having their work exhibited and shown, there remains a glass ceiling that needs to be addressed.”
Starting tomorrow, visitors will be greeted with works by artists in their 20s to 50s. A piece featuring Kanye, Kim and Minnie Mouse by the American artist Julia Wachtel lent the exhibition its name. “The light-hearted and ironic title throws into contrast the reality of those labour-intensive, lonely hours in the studio with the perceived glamour of the art world, with its endless launches and parties,” says Hurst. Elsewhere there are works by Iranian-born multi-media artist Soheila Sokhanvari and Stephanie Quayle, from the Isle of Man, who works with clay. Sadly, as with most industries, female artists can expect to earn significantly less than their male counterparts. The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama boasts the record for the highest amount paid for a work by a living female artist, with one work going for $7.5m (£4.85m). However, that seems rather insignificant when compared to the male equivalent: $58.4m (£40.1m) for a Jeff Koons sculpture. Similarly, the most ever forked out for a work by a deceased female artist is $44.4m (£30.5m) for a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, while a Francis Bacon work has sold for $142.4m (£97.8m). And of the top 50 contemporary auction lots by living artists sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in China, New York and London last year, only four of them were by women.
But it’s not all just about money. Extra support for female artists is crucial if the art world is to address the historical imbalance. So when Saatchi makes a move like this, or the Tate includes a feminist section in their The World Goes Pop exhibition, they should be applauded. We owe it to all the women throughout history who, though they could sit for a painting, were never allowed to pick up a brush themselves.
Champagne Life is at the Saatchi Gallery from 13 January to 6 March 2016.