Provansal, Mathilde: Breaking the “glass ceiling” in contemporary art: the role of public institutions

Women artists are underrepresented at the highest levels of artistic, symbolic and economic reputation, although they make up the majority of art school students as well as artists in France. Art worlds are generally considered tolerant and transgressive. Then, why are women artists facing a “glass ceiling” in contemporary art? How can we reduce gender inequalities in artistic careers?

To understand this paradox, I have conducted biographical interviews with 50 former students of a prestigious French art school and with 30 intermediaries (gallerists, curators, art critics, etc.). Moreover, I built a database on the former students of this art school. It includes all students that graduated between 1995 and 2013 and appear on ArtFacts, an artistic ranking (n = 940).

My analysis shows that there exists a gender success gap on the art market only. Being a woman has a negative effect on the visibility on the art market. But it does not affect the visibility of women artists in public institutions, festival and biennales of contemporary art. In this communication, I would like to shed light on the role of public policy in the reduction of gender inequalities in contemporary art. I will explain how the implementation of a public policy to support visual arts in France from 1981 has had a positive impact on the institutional visibility of women artists.