in News | 17 AUG 18

Berlin Art World’s ‘Hidden Scandal’: Sexual Harassment, Poverty, and Gender Pay Gap, Study Finds

A survey of 1,745 artists reveals how job precarity, sexual abuse and gender disparities are rife in the city’s famous art scene

in News | 17 AUG 18

Simon Fujiwara, Joanne, 2016. Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, The Photographers’ Gallery and Ishikawa Foundation. Courtesy: the artist

A new study of 1,745 Berlin-based artists makes for grim reading, revealing rife poverty, sexual abuse and harassment, and a serious gender pay gap in the German capital’s arts scene. The report, carried out by the Institute of Strategy Development (IFSE) and the Professional Association of Visual Artists Berlin, found the average income from artistic practice to be just EUR€9,600 – with half earning less than EUR€5,000.

The report also makes clear that a significant gender gap plagues the city’s art world. Male artists earn 28 percent more than female artists – the study compares an average income of EUR€11,662 for men with EUR€8,390 for women per year. The report described this disparity as a ‘hidden scandal’. For comparison, this sits far above the national average gender pay gap of 21 percent. Just 24% of men and 19% of women could cover their living expenses from their art practice alone.

The gender disparity is also pronounced in exhibition-making. For instance, at this year’s Gallery Weekend Berlin, the report claims that there was significant overrepresentation, with 40 percent more work by men than women. In terms of solo exhibitions, the average number for male artists is 22% more than female artists.

Sexualized abuse of power is particularly prevalent in the capital. Of the respondents, 31 percent of women stated that they had experienced sexual harassment at work; 9 percent of men also reported harassment. In 95 percent of all cases, the perpetrator was male. The report says that sexual violence ranged from ‘offensive remarks by university professors, gallery owners, or collectors to clear sexual assaults.’ One third of incidents were linked to an abuse of power, and another third with physical violence. But just 7.5 percent reported their experiences. ‘Sexism is unfortunately the order of the day,’ one female artist said.

To add to the study’s reporting of job precarity, artists’s pensions were highlighted as another area for concern. 90 percent of artists would not able to live off them in old age, the report found. ‘I was alarmed by how low the pension expectancy of the artists actually is,’ Hergen Wöbken, study author and founding director of IFSE, commented.

A recent study by the Freelands Foundation of the UK art world found that there was a noticeable gender disparity in the activities of major London galleries. The report drew attention to significant female underrepresentation through commercial representation or presence in institutional shows – the traditional markers of professional artistic ‘success’ – despite women outnumbering men at art school.

In a recent piece for frieze, art historian Miya Tokumitsu writes that in the age of the #MeToo movement, museums, galleries and art world instutitons have to face the challenge of ‘viewing places where art is made and shown as workplaces,’ and turning them into properly democratic spaces.