New Study Reveals the Lack of Diversity in NYC’s Top Art Galleries

Photo: Midtown Manhattan as seen from Weehawken, NJ. July 5, 2011. Photo: Dmitry Avdeev, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This spring, CUNY Guttman College Professor James Case-Leal lead a study for his course, “Arts in NYC,” which examined the race, gender, and education background of artists represented by the top 45 art galleries in New York City including Crave faves Sean Kelly, Jack Shainman, Luhring Augustine, Paul Kasmin, Marian Goodman, and David Zwirner.

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The results are not surprising: the status quo reigns. Through their study, students discovered that 78.4% of all artists are white, far exceeding the country’s actual population of 64%. This over-representation by race further underscores the on-going under-representation of all other groups including 4.7% Latino, who make up 16% of the general population. Blacks account for 6.3% of the artists, while they are 12% of the U.S. population, while Asians net 8%, Middle Eastern 2%, South Asian 0.4%, and Pacific Islander and Native Americans each netting 0.1%.

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918, oil on canvas, 31.3 x 31.3 inches, on view at the Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918, oil on canvas, 31.3 x 31.3 inches, on view at the Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The gender breakdown continues with more of the same, as 70% of the artists represented are male, and only 30% are female. What is also extremely telling is the bias towards higher education, with 46.9% of the artists represented in possession of MFAs. Yale ranked highest, with 19% of the artists in possession of an MFA, followed by Columbia University and California Institute of the Arts, both 19th 9%, and UCLA with 8%.

The full set of data is available for review at Haven for the Dispossessed, a website designed to showcase the study in full. For each gallery, researchers provided an individual breakdown of race and gender by gallery, as well as an overview of their methods, which one should review with caution. The researchers relied upon their perceptions, rather than actual interviews with the artists themselves.

The website notes, “To determine race and gender we looked at how the artist has been written about by publications and the gallery. When that information was not available the reviewer used their best personal judgement [sic] based on indicators that stood out to them. For this reason we were not able to identify any of the artists as trans or non-gendered.”

Further adding to the murk are the issues of outsiders determining the race for anyone other than themselves. The site reveals, “Identifying race is always complicated. Perceptions and determination of race varies widely by culture and geography and is commonly incongruous with the subject’s self identification. The individual reviewers often looked at photographs of the artists to help make a determination by judging phenotypical indicators against their own understanding of racial signifiers. While it is important to acknowldege [sic] and give preferrance [sic] to a person’s self identification – discrimination and representation are most commonly based on how race and gender are perceived [sic] by those with the power to discriminate and represent.”

Given the margin for error in using such methologies, Professor Case-Leal has confirmed that they are updating the study as errors come to their attention. The study concludes with a full list of artists by gallery, confirming their name, age, birth gender, race, nationality, degree, school, and graduation date. This allows the public to fully review the data for any purpose or use.

While the study has methodological flaws, the overall effect is very telling. Some galleries, such as Jack Shainman, Lehman Maupin, and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. are strongly dedicated to diversity, whereas others are seemingly much less so. This recognition is an on-going subject for discussion, debate, and historical context in culture itself. It raises questions about the power structure, one that are worthy of reflection in light of the times in which we live—for above all, art is part of the historical record and with that in mind, we must consider what is there—as well as what is missing, in order to more fully perceive the whole.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.