New women artist-only fair to launch in London during Frieze week

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A new art fair focussing on women artists will open in London this October, during the city’s busy autumn art market season. The Women in Art Fair (WIAF) is “dedicated to redressing the gender imbalance in the art industry” and will give women and those identifying as women “an opportunity to show their work, and contribute to the developing exchange of ideas around gender, sexuality and culture”, according to its website.

The first edition will take place from 11 to 16 October, coinciding with Frieze London and Frieze Masters, and will be held at the Mall Galleries in Westminster.

“The [art] industry needs to have a real look in the mirror at its under-representation of women,” says Jacqueline Harvey, the fair’s director. “The gender imbalance is sector-wide: from commercial representation for artists, sales at auction and acquisitions in museums, as well as pay and job opportunities.”

Harvey—who was formerly the managing director of the Mayfair gallery Art Strategics and has worked at fairs including Start, London Art Fair, Masterpiece, Art Basel and Art Bahrain—quotes many statistics to make her point, including the Halperin-Burns 2019 report that claimed that only 2% of the $196.6bn spent at auctions between 2008 and 2019 was on works by women artists.

Jacqueline Harvey, the director of WIAF

The WIAF fair will be split into three sections: the West Gallery will host the 21-booth art fair offering “top names and cutting-edge international galleries” says Harvey. Fees for a booth range from £5,000 to £10,000. The full list of participating galleries will be released in September, but Harvey adds that they are “working closely with Virginia Damsta, the co-founder of Riflemaker, and Cynthia Corbett”. Tickets for the fair will be released on 1 September.

The East Gallery will host a “mostly selling” exhibition called Unnatural Women of “emerging and established female artists whose work explores humankind’s ambivalent relationship with nature”, organised by the artist, writer and curator Rowena Easton. One of the historical stars is Paula Rego whose works will be in conversation with the contemporary rising star Marcelle Hanselaar,” says Harvey. Other featured contemporary artists include Abigail Norris, Olivia Bullock and Angelina May Davies.

In the North Gallery will be a selling-exhibition of works by contemporary women artists along the theme of “The World is a Family”, selected through an open call, which closes on 21 August.

The fair will host additional programming including panel discussions with partners such as the Arts Club, Number 22 and Young Masters. “We are also planning a super big opening reception and after party,” Harvey says. 

Comparing WIAF to Frieze, Harvey argues that “Frieze is a great art fair and we really enjoyed the Spotlight selection of female artists last year. However, their fair model does not really allow for fair women artist participation”.

“Gender bias in the art market is real. It’s endemic and structural,” agrees Sigrid Kirk, the co-founder of Awita, a not-for-profit organisation supporting women who work in the art world, which is partnering with the fair. “I’m not sure showing women separately and divorcing them from a market place is the best way of shifting the needle, but it is a powerful call to action and a sign that commercial galleries are not changing or adapting fast enough.” She adds: “By 2025, it is estimated that 60% of the UK’s wealth will belong to women who will want to buy art by women. In terms of a market for art by women this presents an undeniable growth area and one commercially savvy galleries are heeding.”

WIAF was set up as a project in 2018 and its first attempt as a fair was abandoned due to the pandemic. It has received development funding from the Arts Council through the British Library Business and IP Centre and its sponsor is the luxury British building company Chartwell Group.

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