Bye Bye Lordship!
Clementine Butler-Gallie, September 2020
Artists lie at the core of the art eco-system, but they rely on institutions, galleries, and collectors
to support their work. The work of women artists, however, are still notoriously left from these
collections and gallery walls. Today demands to examine gender distortions flood the cultural
sphere, alongside calls to respond to further historic exclusion based on race, disability, age,
and sexuality, among others. These calls may be loud and frequent, but until institutional powers respond
with direct, material action, a perpetual cycle of inequality will remain.
So what can contemporary action against ongoing inequality in the art world look like?
In 2018, Lætitia Gorsy founded the gallery She BAM! as a direct response to the ever-present gender
disparity in the art world, and more specifically the art market. An essay by sociologist Taylor
Whitten Brown included in the 2019 art market report asked the question ‘Why Does Gender Disparity
Persist in the Gallery Sector?’ (1) Whitten Brown lists a number of strong causes for this outdated
imbalance, but two particularly stand out: ‘the differences in gallery representation’ and ‘the proportion
of curators, collectors, and gallery representatives who are female’. She BAM! is fighting
the ongoing effect by tackling first the causes. The female-led gallery has one core order - it only
exhibits work by women artists. This simple but direct gallery model looks to alter the present
in order to construct a new and equal future.
The gallery’s process of artist selection may be specific, but the diversity of artistic subject is unbounded.
From Dorothée Louise Recker’s signature, hued palette and Theresa Möller’s monumental
landscapes to the intricate ceramics of Sarah Pschorn and the notorious artivism of the Guerrilla Girls
- each exhibition stands independently from another.
Openness and diversity are necessities for an issue that itself contains multitudes. There are many
ways in which gender inequality can manifest itself across the cultural sphere and beyond. Temporal,
geopolitical, cultural, situational, and personal elements can combine to alter each experience
differently. When looked at on a micro level, each experience of gender inequality is unique,
however, on the macro level, the issue is global and recurring. As the issue itself extends multiple
borders, so does She BAM! The gallery has already exhibited its artists across Northern Europe
and the US, with no plans to stop there. This mondial approach is just one part of the gallery’s passionate
activities to support and nurture its artists, placing their work on the international stage
whilst also pushing for change outside of one single centre.
Lætitia Gorsy has previously remarked that the gallery “stands for a continuity of sharing, a transfer
of power.” Sharing plays a prominent role in the gallery’s cultural actions. This takes shape as both
physical and online presentations that sit outside of the traditional exhibiting format. The gallery
often opens up its space to female cultural practitioners, inviting them to host talks, workshops,
and round-table events. This has been expanded and diversified via the gallery’s online actions.
These include features of international women artists and online talks that delve deeper into the
gallery’s vision for change. This varied additional programme offers an open space for collaboration
and a strong, global sense of community, both vital elements for any revolt.
Initiatives that ignite change tend, at first, to take the form of an experiment. But it is the flexible
nature of experimentation that allows a project to move with the times. She BAM!’s working methodology
is simultaneously fluid and precise, allowing the gallery’s artistic standard to remain
high but its programme to be varied and unpredictable. In an art market that is grounded in an
archaic set of rituals, it is refreshing to see a space that does not conform to standard conduct.
Many may regard this defiance and experimentation as ‘risk-taking’ but therein lies the crucial
problem. Supporting and collecting work by women is not a risk. The risk exists in what history
has to lose if people continue not to.
There have been many great women artists throughout history, as there will be many more
to come. Take, for example, the 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who had major artistic
success in her lifetime, and whose work is a core teaching of art history. Yet, it has taken until 2020
for there to be a major retrospective exhibition of her works in the UK (2). This exhibition will include
Gentileschi’s ’Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria’. Saint Catherine of the 4th Century
was tortured on a wooden wheel with iron spikes but was rescued by divine intervention. Artemisia’s
choice to depict herself as Saint Catherine alludes to her personal fight as a female artist in the 17th
Century but today can also be seen as an allegory for the collective struggle and resilience of many
A lack of institutional and gallery support for women artists has resulted in the legacies of many
to be forgotten. Artemisia Gentileschi has become a symbol of resistance against abuse of power
and a voice for the many women lost to the ongoing gender bias in both contemporary art and art history.
As the fight continues for equality in the cultural sphere and beyond, Artemisia Gentileschi’s
words ring true “My illustrious lordship, I’ll show you what a woman can do”. She BAM! is continuing
this legacy and showing the art world exactly what women are worth.
(1) Taylor Whitten Brown, ‘Why Does Gender Disparity Persist in the Gallery Sector? A Note on the Science
of Inequality in the Art Market’, Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report 2019, pg. 128-129, edited by Clare
(2) ‘Artemisia’, The National Gallery, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/artemisia
Clementine Butler-Gallie is a british curator and writer based between Berlin and Rostock. Prior to moving to Germany,
she lived and worked in London where she studied History of Art with Christie’s Education.
Her practice stems from an interest in testing and developing durational exhibition models that explore themes
of cultural contact and exchange, migration and movement. Her recent curatorial projects include the exhibitions
'Salt of the Earth' at Feldfünf, Berlin, 'While You Were Sleeping' at Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait,
the radio show ‘Art of Change’ on London-based Resonance FM, and the ongoing research project 'East and West:
Beirut to Berlin’. Her writing has been published in numerous papers.
3D Illustration by Anaïs Goupy