Gendered Obstacles in Contemporary Art: The Art Market, Motherhood and Invisible Ecologies

visual arts gender inequality commercial galleries feminism contemporary art motherhood


December 23, 2022


This article addresses issues of gender inequality in the UK’s contemporary art sector.  It combines quantitative data on shifts in gender representation from over a hundred commercial contemporary art galleries in London in 2016, 2019 and 2022 with qualitative interviews with leading gallery directors. The research seeks to uncover structural inequalities in the commercial art sector which continue to create obstacles for female artists. In particular, we highlight the impact of the myth of meritocracy and an insistence on “quality” (particularly in relation to masculine ideology around ‘genius’); the continuing relationship between art history and the contemporary art market; the impact of parenting on the careers of female artists; and, the commercial sector’s influence on the public and not-for-profit arena in light of dwindling government financial support of public institutions. Our key findings underline that the commercial sector is increasingly necessary for career success, and that biases against women in the commercial art world inhibit opportunities for women artists and the number of women being represented by commercial galleries. Our data, collected over a period of six years, shows a mere 1% annual improvement, to just 34% in 2022.