Financial jargon when tied to the visual arts scene is a tricky combination to behold. How do we equate the deeply personal themes and emotional drive of art to a singular, fluctuating monetary value? It can be a daunting but inevitable task to comprehend, as more and more, the merit assessment of artworks and an artistic career is pinned on the results spilling out of Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction houses.
From my experience working three and a half years in a commercial contemporary art gallery, investigating the art market and what truly determines the dollar amount of artworks is a skill that is an asset to have as trends and movements, along with institutions and arts leaders, finally expand into increasing inclusion efforts. Soaring worldwide inflation and the unknown potential of an oncoming recession pressurize the need to dissect where the future of the economy lies for women artists.
Annually, multinational financial and investment firm UBS partners with Art Basel to release a report on the global art market based off the previous year’s market results. Dr. Clare McAndrew, Founder of Arts Economics, prepares the findings, a task she has been aiding with since 2016. For the most elusive of markets, where economic analysis tends to lie on auction sales, rather than culminating museum acquisitions, gallery transactions, and art dealer relations, Dr. McAndrew’s report is a comprehensive, all-encompassing understanding of the financial year of art in review.
For the first time, Dr. McAndrew released an accompanying report titled “The Role of Cities in the US Art Ecosystem.” The report hones in on the US as the leading arts market and examines how data relating to programing at museums and galleries throughout the nation describes the frameworks of these institutions and their impact on emerging, mid-career, and established art careers.
One key term that caught my eye within the report was that of risk appetite. Risk appetite is classified as the level of risk or unpredictable chance that an organization is prepared to accept in pursuit of objectives before action is deemed necessary to reduce the risk. The term conjures the physical idea of a voracious hunger of the devourer, ready to consume without thinking twice. Developed by Wondeur AI, a data-driven start-up that uses quantitative analysis to clarify the art market, the terminology benchmarks how willing the arts institutions across 2,500 US cities are to show emerging artists in public exhibitions, artist talks, and published exhibition catalogues.
From 2010 to 2021, five cities topped the statistical board: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami.
From 2010 to 2021, five cities topped the statistical board: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami. The common finding across the five metropolises is the increased risk appetite for commercial galleries (over museums) to showcase new emerging artists. This reflects a conservative outlook regarding how an artist’s provenance, exhibition history, press or documentation can shape how willing museum boards and curatorial teams are to present their work publicly.
The capability of the commercial gallery sector to promote the work of emerging women artists was the lowest in Chicago but the highest in Miami. In Miami as well, the city’s museums were also the exception in showcasing more women artists over male artists across the board. As the only major American city founded by a woman, Miami has a deeply rooted history of acting as a playground for women artists to be taken seriously despite performance risks.
In the early 1960s, Continuum Gallery was founded in Miami Beach as one of the first art collectives for women in the Southeast US. This precedes the rise of feminist art movements across the United States during the 1970s, such as 1972’s A.I.R. Gallery in New York, 1973’s Artemisia in Chicago, or Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s 1972 establishment of Womanhouse in Los Angeles.
Co-organized by a group of women artists during a time when South Florida was a cultural desert in comparison to the burgeoning scenes of New York and Chicago, the Continuum Gallery’s function as a women’s co-op served to exhibit the work of women artists when nobody else would. The space also provided opportunities for artist talks, workshops, and community-based critique. Continuum Gallery would go on to operate until the 1990s, when Miami’s credibility as a serious arts scene flourished in the national and global art proscenium. Decisions noted by renowned gallerists such as Bernice Steinbaum, who relocated her New York-based gallery to Wynwood in 2000, and the founding of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002, support this trend.
Now, the idea of risk appetite can’t stand alone in these statistical findings. It must be coupled with performance metrics to determine the success of whether these risks paid off in the end. The city that showed the best success rate for women artists in further developing their careers through both museums and galleries was Los Angeles.
Yet, as stated in Dr. McAndrew’s findings, “Miami stood out as the only city where emerging female artists were more likely to be exhibited for the first time over their male peers in both the museum and commercial gallery sectors, indicating that it could be an important testing ground for some artists that go on to be successful elsewhere.”
The emphasis I’m placing on this key statement is one that goes beyond elevating Miami as a cultural hub and destination in the future of contemporary art. While New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have dominated the arts market for centuries, Miami represents a stark reminder that to be respected as the underdog, especially as a woman artist, often means being a young purveyor of an unpredictable landscape and identity.
Displaying women artists still takes guts and chutzpah within the structures of funded curatorial programs and commissioned exhibitions.
Displaying women artists still takes guts and chutzpah within the structures of funded curatorial programs and commissioned exhibitions. As the cost of living rises in the Miami-Dade metro area and out-of-towners flock to the subtropical climate in respite, the financial success and increasing recognition of women artists to a new audience is yet to be determined. This is furthered by the complexities related to the intersectionality of women artists, i.e. gender, sexuality, and race. How are women of color or queer women factored into these studies, as well as trans women and non-binary identifying individuals?
Born and raised, and now working within Miami’s visual arts scene, I’ve realized the crucial need for learning and applying financial literacy when working with women artists, especially those striving to focus full-time on their artistic endeavors. Personal agency does not stop at the resting of an artist’s brush or the print of a photograph. To truly claim one’s practice as one’s own requires keeping tabs on the transactional.
© Isabella Marie Garcia (8/17/22) — Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
To read “The Role of Cities in the US Art Ecosystem,” click here.
Check out “Five Key Takeaways from our new report on the role of cities in the US art ecosystem” here.
Learn more about Wondeur AI here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Michelle Pred, “Wage Gaps,” 2020, dollar bills, acrylic, ink on American Flag. Photo by and courtesy of Michelle Pred.
Top Photo: Dr. Clare McAndrew, Founder of Arts Economics and creator of the UBS x Art Basel Art Market Report. Photo courtesy of Art Basel.
Bottom Right Photo: Figure 13 of “The Role of Cities in the US Art Ecosystem,” titled “Performance Rating of Different Institutions by City for Emerging (After 2010) Artists. © Arts Economics, 2022 with data from Wondeur AI.
Bottom Left Photo: Continuum Gallery Members in Miami Beach (from left to right, balcony to ground): Peggy Selig Gordon, Mira Lehr, Brooke Engle, Freda Tschumy, Marcella Waldman, Kay Clarke, Shirley Michnoff, Annamae Levenson Kaye, Pansy Schenck, Carol Giller Fryd, Harriet Lefkowitz, and Joyce Ellen Kaiser. Photo by Annamae Levenson Kaye and Courtesy of Mira Lehr.