Airbrushing Mrs / by Missy Douglas

Dora Carrington & Max Ernst

Dora Carrington & Max Ernst

‘Female artists account for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection; 20% of the Whitworth Manchester’s and 35% of Tate Modern’s collections. Only 33% of the artists representing Britain at the Venice Biennale over the past decade have been women. The imbalance is systemic, and exists not just in the enormous gaps that are evident in the collections of publicly funded institutions. It is also perpetuated by some of biggest commercial galleries that operate in the UK and internationally. Figures compiled by the Guardian show that, over the past decade, 83% of Lisson Gallery’s solo shows, 71% of Hauser and Wirth’s solo shows, 88% of Gagosian’s shows, 76% of White Cube’s shows and 59% of Victoria Miro’s shows were by male artists.’ (Guardian, Feb 6, 2017)

This figure is a shameful indictment on how women artists have been erased from our collective cultural history. From fine art to advertising, from architecture to digital arts, the achievements of women artists - achievements that are highly significant in their reach and influence - have been systematically snubbed by the male collectors, the male curators, the male dealers, the male custodians, the male arbiters of taste.

This is especially the case in the context of creative partnerships.

We have experienced this problem head on. Routinely people believe that Kim is the sole creator of our work. When they approach us, they immediately look at him and ask 'Are you the artist?' and proceed to engage him alone. Even if he corrects them, the temptation to see the man as the lead is overwhelming. Sculpture, like architecture, is a man's game. Only in the context of the 2:365 project which revolves around the 'softer' discipline of painting, do people understand the division and my primary role. But even then, we couch everything in terms of 'we, us' not 'I, me' to honor the collaboration. All because I painted the pictures, doesn't mean that Kim's creative presence is excluded from the process as a whole.

The tendency to airbrush out the female force when it comes to hetero couples/partnerships is strong. No one treats Gilbert & George like this. We wouldn't dream of suggesting that George has artistic superiority over Gilbert. I've spoken before about how women are often sidelined in the history of creative partnerships. Artists in their own right (note I didn't say FEMALE artists or WOMEN artists) are invariably described as 'the Wife of Mr More Famous Artist You Have Heard Of.' Step forward Mrs Ernst, Mrs de Kooning, Mrs Bratby, Mrs Delaunay, Mrs Albers and Mrs Richter. She becomes worthy of our attention merely by virtue of who she fucks. But despite this, despite the fact her output is as technically skilled and conceptually rich as her husband's, her work commands less value (69% less according to recent sources) because of her position in the patriarchal shadows. So today I am giving a huge sisterly shout out to all the Wife Artists out there and especially to Mrs Nicholson, Mrs Stieglitz and Mrs Rivera who have proven that we can dare to outshine and outearn our husbands.