W.I.A. founder Sarah Norris

It’s Frieze week – the biggest, sexiest, conceptual-y-est art fair on the planet.  London is awash with private views, parties, canapes (if you’re lucky, maybe the odd sniff of dinner) but generally wine, fizz and beer.  Get your blagging hats on, people – maybe this is why Britain are good at the culture industries, because we like free booze, and what better drive?  But what is sexy art?  What is sexist art?  Is the art industry sexist?  As many Cold Lips’ associates will assure us, of whom we are very proud (without name-dropping,  you know who you are, and we look forward to further collabs): Good art may not be good culture.  If anything, good art is always anti-culture.  So perhaps we could go as far to say: feminists make good art…

SARAH NORRIS is the founder of Women in Art, a platform promoting women in the art world.


Why did you start W.I.A.?

Women artists are perceived and exhibited differently to male artists.  Walking into the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition at the Tate last year, the first picture was of the artist with her tits out!  Going into the Barbara Hepworth retrospective, also at the Tate in 2015, I was surprised to see the first two rooms were completely devoted to the work of her lover, husband and peers (all male).  Would you do that with a major male artist?  You can’t read an interview with a woman without a reference to their children, or why they haven’t had any.  Why are women seen through the prism of their partners, or their fertility?  Or as sexualised objects?  And where’s the diversity?  To get a major retrospective as a woman, you pretty much have to be old, white or dead.

So what does W.I.A. stand for?

WIA stands for promoting women’s art regardless of their reproductive or romantic status, and highlighting inequalities like race, lack of representation, lower prices at auction, fewer solo shows, despite the trumpeted but few in number ‘blockbuster’ shows by the big institutions.  WIA shines a light on the gendered way women artists are perceived and promoted within the art world and society as a whole.

I’ve been treated differently due to my gender and the assumptions that others have around that.  As a woman and a feminist, it’s impossible to overlook it.  I find it shocking that 47 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still working for 13.9% less than men for the same work.  In the art world this is considerably wider.  If you compare prices paid for work by living artists, Jeff Koons Balloon Dog Orange sold in 2013 for $58.4 million, compared to Cady Noland’s Bluewald at $9.7 million.

What are you doing about it?

We’re raising awareness of individual artists and contributing to the dialogue about equality in the arts.  We’re pushing for equality for contemporary art professionals.  We’re running a series of events, which include talks about artists.  We are organising Wikipedia edit-a-thons to add excluded and forgotten women to the art history canon.
We’re talking about artists that may have been forgotten, or whose work has been mistakenly attributed to other (male) artists.  Like Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (her ‘readymade’ sculpture ‘God’ was originally attributed to Morton Schaumburg, the photographer of this piece.  Even now the work is attributed to both of them, rather than sole attribution to the artist.)  Current research points to her being the author of the first ‘Readymade’ in 1913, as well as the creator of ‘Fountain’, the urinal which Duchamp later claimed as his own, which gave him the title of Father of Conceptual Art.

We’ll be asking why work by artists is in institutional collections but isn’t on show to the public.  Ana Mendieta and Liliane Lijn spring to mind.

WIA website


Portrait by Jason McGlade.


‘WIA. Women in Art’ is an article published exclusively in Cold Lips II. To read more stories from the issue, you can purchase a full copy in select shops or in our online store.

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