Women are becoming more recognised as artists than a generation ago, but the art world can still be a lonely place for them
Rachel Whiteread, pictured in the Tate turbine hall, is one of one three women to win the Turner prize. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
I’m fascinated by Joanna Moorehead’s piece [July’s] arts pages about the collections of art by women at New Hall, Cambridge, and in Washington. My instinct was that I would no more divide the books on my shelves by gender than I would embrace the notion of visiting a women’s art gallery.
Nonetheless, Moorehead’s piece is persuasive. And women do not have equality as art practitioners. A crude measure it may be, but even if you look at very recent history – and take the Turner prize as a snapshot – out of 23 winners, the only women have been Tomma Abts, Rachel Whiteread and Gillian Wearing. If you looked at solo shows at, say, Tate Modern, I am sure the statistics would be yet more bald: part of the force for me of its recent Louise Bourgeois exhibition was that it reminded me how rare an experience it is for female sexuality and female experience to be explored on this scale and with this level of forcefulness and sophistication.
But gender inequality cuts right through the art world. While a phalanx of talented women have risen to the top of the private gallery world in the UK – Sadie Coles, Victoria Miro and Maureen Paley to name three – the public sector is in a ridiculous situation. Of the 31 directors of national museums and archives, only four are women. Clearly, the situation for women in the art world has transformed beyond all recognition over the past generation or so. But it still has a long way to go. Perhaps it will be time to pack up the collection at New Hall when Tate and the National Gallery are run by women.
–Charlotte Higgins On Culture