Four influential women on the Asian art scene

Although underrepresented in art internationally, women sometimes call the shots when it comes to Asian art.

In May 2013, an art audit by UK-based equality group the Fawcett Society showed a glaring gender disparity in London’s art scene, with men outnumbering women in almost all sectors. While this disparity is often mirrored globally, Art Radar picks out four women who buck the trend in Asia.

Data collected by the Fawcett Society shows women artists under-represented by the media and arts organisations in the UK and the US. Image courtesy The Guardian.

Data collected by the Fawcett Society shows women artists under-represented by the media and arts organisations in the UK and the US. Image courtesy The Guardian.

The Fawcett Society‘s Great East London Art Audit focused on the twelve months between April 2012 to April 2013 and gathered data from 134 commercial galleries in London. 3,163 artists in total were collectively represented by these galleries, and of this only 31% of the represented artists were women. 78% of the galleries represented more men than women.

The results may be surprising to some, but the news will be less unexpected to the likes of New York-based feminist group Guerrilla Girls, who made a name for themselves as early as 1985 with their protest art against women’s exclusion from MoMA. Art historian Linda Nochlin addressed this same issue in her 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (pdf download).

In spite of the underrepresentation of women in the arts, Gemma Rolls-Bentley from the Fawcett Society asserts in The Guardian that “significant positive progress has and is being made.” In Asia, there are several notable women who hold positions of influence in both commercial and academic arenas.

Yayoi Kusama, whose work has the highest turnover for any living female artist, and ranks in the top ten of living artists regardless of gender.

Yayoi Kusama, whose work has the highest turnover for any living female artist and ranks in the top ten of living artists regardless of gender.

Visual Artist Yayoi Kusama

Avant-garde artist and novelist Yayoi Kusama is best known for her polka-dot coverings, her phallic-shaped sculptures and her infinity mirror installations. Born in 1929 in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Kusama began painting and drawing as a child. She lived in New York City from 1957 to 1972 where she staged live performances often, but not always, in the nude.

During her lengthy art career, Kusama has won numerous awards and recognition for her work and is the first Japanese woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale, one of Japan’s most prestigious prizes for internationally recognised artists.

A penetrating profile of the artist in the Financial Times shows that Kusama’s career was not all fame and glory: she suffered dire setbacks including mental illness, prompting her pen-pal the artist Georgia O’Keefe to come to New York City to rescue her. However, by 2008 when one of her “infinity net” paintings was auctioned at Christie’s it fetched USD5.1m, a record sum for a living female artist. She remains the only female artist to consistently make it into the top ten selling living artists in the world, according to art watchers such as artnet.

In regarding her legacy, Kusama told the Financial Times,

I am always trying to transmit my own message to as many people as possible. My main message is please stop war and live out the brilliance of life. I want to keep my profile as high as possible even after I have died.

Yayoi Kusama, 'Yayoi Kusama', 1965, photograph. Image courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo

Yayoi Kusama, ‘Yayoi Kusama’, 1965, photograph. Image courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo.

Chinese Art Auctioneer Hu Yanyan

Hu Yanyan is vice-president of the art auction house China Guardian Auctions, headquartered in Beijing, which is considered to be  “one of the world’s largest auction houses” by Forbes magazine. According to the auction house’s website, China Guardian, established in May 1993, has by 2013 staged over 300 auctions with more than 200,000 lots sold.

In an article in China Daily, Hu explains that the art market has changed since she began her career. She states,

We used to compete over who can sell more. Now we are seeing who can sell the better work. The competition is just as fierce as it was in the heyday, but with a different emphasis.

A 2012 China Guardian auction in full swing. Image courtesy China Guardian.

A 2012 China Guardian auction in full swing. Image courtesy China Guardian.

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani is the daughter of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the ruling Emir of Qatar. The Economist called her “the art world’s most powerful woman” thanks to her extensive connections within the international art world.

According to the TED forum, where she has given talks, she is “the young and progressive force behind Qatar’s mission to become the Middle East’s foremost destination for the arts and culture.” Al-Thani completed postgraduate work at Columbia University, as well as studying literature and political science at Duke University in North Carolina. She is tri-lingual in Arabic, French, and English.

She is the chairperson of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) and, perhaps more importantly, scion of the Qatari royal family, the biggest art buyers in the country, which spends the most on contemporary art in the world, according to The Art Newspaper

Sheikha al_Thani, the most powerful women in art, by some estimates.

Sheikha al-Thani, the most powerful woman in art, by some estimates.

Asia Art Archive Co-Founder Claire Hsu.

Hong Kong-based Claire Hsu is the cofounder and executive director of the Asia Art Archive (AAA), an organisation that collects material relating to contemporary Asian art. AAA also hosts talks, lectures, seminars and allows researchers the use of the continually growing archive, with the aim of creating “a collection belonging to the public, existing not in an enclosed space, but in a space that is open and productive, generating new ideas and works that continually reshape the Archive itself.”

Born in London, Hsu moved to Hong Kong at the age of ten. In an interview with HK Magazine, she referred to her “half-Chinese, half-Austrian” heritage, and said it was this sense of disconnection from her Chinese ethnicity which prompted her to study Chinese and Chinese History. As well as running AAA, she was also appointed to the Museum Advisory Group for the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Her dream museum, she tells HK Magazine, “would be an open, flexible organisation that has very strongly curatorial-focused exhibitions, presented to international standards, and reaches out to the public.”

 SK/CN/JC

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Related Topics: art lists, women power, Yayoi Kusama

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