Citizenship, Meta-Practice

Art World Misogyny

Sexism in the art world: the art world needs to radically re-think its ethics.

Today’s profile of Simon Evans and Sarah Lannan (WSJ) was framed as an ongoing quandary between husband-and-wife collaborators: How will Evans and Lannan share credit for artwork branded as Evans’, which Lannan has increasingly co-authored over the past eight years?

The title, “An Art-World Love Story: As Simon Evans’s star rises in the art world, his wife wants more credit” is frankly pre-Women’s Lib. Besides the fact that Evans is identified by name, and Lannan only as “his wife,” the angle is sexist—it implies that a gold-digging Lannan wants credit because Evans’ capital is increasing, not due to her contributions:

While Ms. Lannan, 29, was deeply involved in the creations, the works continued to carry his name…. Ms. Lannan had been growing increasingly uncomfortable with their practice of showing work that they had jointly produced under Mr. Evans’s name. They went to a couple’s therapist in 2012 to talk about it, but found they spent much of the sessions educating the counselor on how the art world worked….

The commercial art world is no model for ethical behavior. To me, explaining the art world’s misogyny to a therapist sets up conditional ethics. What ought to be done—giving credit where credit is due, and honoring one’s life partner—is obvious. Yet the couple seems to waffle in deference to money and power:

…given Mr. Evans’s reputation, Ms. Lannan was wary of upsetting the status quo. “We thought it was up to ‘The Man,’ or whoever was in control of the art world,” she said. “There is no way I was going to destroy this thing that Simon has. And neither one of us wants to lose our jobs.”

This illustrates the pervasiveness of artists’ precarity: with so many artists desperate for modest recognition, those who’ve garnered success can become fearfully beholden, lacking personal agency. From my reading, Evans holds the cards—and he is reluctant to sacrifice his male privilege to risk marginalization by association.

To cynics (or so-called realists) who call this strategy is a fair response to an unjust market, I’d offer this: The market is not fixed. It’s not truth, and we shouldn’t let its distortions form the organizing principles in our lives, relationships, and creative collaborations.

The commercial art world of collectors and dealers reflects the values of a privileged and prejudiced few. By doing nothing, and allowing Lannan to carry the burden of agitating for recognition, Evans allows the the myth of male genius to work to his benefit at his wife’s detriment. Similarly, if artists feel that we’re never in any position to assert our principles within the shape and structure of our interactions, then we are likewise complicit.

When George Baselitz recently said that women “don’t paint well,” as backed up by  “the market test,” at least his shock-schtick publicized the art world’s sexism overtly. Internalized misogyny and self-preservationist complacency, on the other hand, are less public, more prevalent, and no less abhorrent.

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