The Art of being of Woman in the Art World

International Women’s Day was not too long ago and keeps echoing in my mind. A great number of inspirational women have been cited and it made me wonder: who are the women that I deem inspiring?

It is widely known that the art world has been largely dominated by men over the years, but this statement generally echoes the overwhelming presence of male artists. I recently wrote about Hannah Hoch, the only woman to be considered an important Dadaist but most of the 20th century art movements scarcely have women. Recently, a group exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London raised controversy as it gathered 35 artists, among which 34 were men.

Keeping it within the art world, the three women who came to mind are, without surprise, gallerists. As far as the profession goes, they are absolute pioneers.


Iris Clert was the owner of the Galerie Iris Clert from 1955 to 1971. Her gallery became an avant-garde hotspot in the international art scene. She exhibited Yves Klein, Arman, Gaston Chaissac, Ad Reinhardt, Pol Bury, Lucio Fontana, Yolande Fièvre, Jean Tinguely, Raymond Hains to cite but a few.

Each of her exhibitions created a scandal. The gallery was a space fully dedicated to experimentation. She played a major role in the development of the Nouveau Realisme, and revolutionary exhibitions such as L’Exposition du Vide by Yves Klein in 1958 and L’Exposition du Plein by Arman in 1960 are lessons in boldness. In the former, the gallery was empty while in the latter the gallery was absolutely full as you can see below.

le vide


In 1961, Robert Rauschenberg, who would become one of the forerunners of the Neo-Dada movement, was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Galerie, in which the artists were to create and display a portrait of Iris Clert. Rauschenberg proceeded to send a telegram to the Galerie, containing the words “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so/ Robert Rauschenberg”.



We owe her:

  • Making American Art known to Europe with an emphasis on American Pop Art thanks to her opening of The Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in 1962
  • Making SoHo an international art hotspot from 1972 until te 1990’s when she opened a gallery on 420 West Broadway
  • Making European Art known in the US with an emphasis on conceptual art and Arte Povera

And, if being amongst the first ones showing the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol in the 1960’s, Jannis Kounnelis or Gilbert & George in the 1970’s was not enough, her exhibitions were introducing Jeff Koons in 1986

Her career is impressive enough for the MoMA to dedicate a show to her that is running until April 21st, 2014.



When it comes to ‘big’ art galleries today, and should the comparison imply their turnover, the male domination is persistent. Larry Gagosian is of course at the top of the list with a reported turnover of $925m in 2012. He is followed by Arne Glimcher ($445m), Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirmer ($225m).

Women show that they can handle big businesses and multiple locations thanks to Marian Goodman. In 2012, Marian Goodman, aged 84, recorded a $150m turnover. In addition to her New York gallery, she opened one in Paris in 1995 and Londoners will get a chance to go to her openings in her Mayfair space, due to open during the fall 2014. According to the Art Media Agency, “Her sophisticated and clear-sighted judgment is yet unchallenged, and she revealed star artists such as Gerhard Richter, Thomas Struth and Marcel Broodthaers“.


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