Buyer's Bias

Let’s talk about conscious and unconscious bias when buying at the art fair. Do you make a conscious effort to support marginalised or under represented artists? If you haven’t decided to, then why?

Sydney Contemporary is the largest annual art fair in Australia. This year’s fair runs 13-16 September with the work of over 300 artists presented for sale at Carriageworks. Art fairs can be a huge opportunity for buyers to support artists. Last year, $16 million of art was sold at Sydney Contemporary over the few days. With all of this money being moved, we should be thinking about where it’s going and what the conditions are that lead to an artist making a sale.

For many people, attending events like Sydney Contemporary begs the question, how did I get here? What kind of access (read: privilege) is necessary for someone to end up involved in Sydney Contemporary, and what levels of access are required for different roles at the fair? Artist, gallery, media, audience.

What is informing or influencing the decisions of the buyers and thus what the galleries are showing?

You might walk in and out knowing exactly what you want and why. You might follow market trends and will invest in names that you have heard are likely to turn around high returns. Either way, I encourage you to take a minute to ask yourself if your spending is biased to a certain type of artist.

Have you ever unpacked your instincts when it comes to what you want to buy and why? Maybe you know why you choose the work that you do, it might suit your collection, or it could be an artist you have had your eye on forever. Art fairs put so many different artists in the same room, and it is an amazing opportunity to stray from the norm and safe purchasing to look at some work that you wouldn’t normally consider, and think about why you wouldn’t normally consider it.

Do you make a conscious effort to support marginalised or under-represented artists? Is your money going to people who would benefit from it more? Are you supporting unheard conversations? Art is agency - for so many people. One incredible way that you can support this agency and facilitate the visibility of these important conversations is by buying the work of different artists.

Reports like CoUNTess have shown that the gender pay gap is larger in the arts than any other industry. If your collection is looking a bit like a boys club, this could be your chance to even it out. This study suggests that women’s artworks are on average nearly half the price of men’s. Whether it is conscious or unconscious, the world values women’s art less, so it’s important to take that into account with your buying.

CoUNTess breakdown from Sydney Contemporary 2017

Gender representation at Sydney Contemporary 2017*

  • In the Current section of galleries, a total of 367 artists exhibited. 40% female artists, 60% male artists.
  • In the Future section of galleries, a total of 35 artists exhibited. 26% female artists, 74% male artists.
  • In neither ‘current’ or ‘future’ did we find non-binary identifying artists exhibiting.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation at Sydney Contemporary 2017

  • Of all artists exhibiting in Current, 9% were Indigenous Australian artists. 
  • In Current, there were more than double the number of Indigenous male artists than Indigenous female artists. A total of 20 Indigenous male artists and 9 Indigenous female artists.
  • Of the 40% female artists in Current, 6% were Indigenous Australian.

If you haven’t been exposed to the work of artists of colour, this could be something you seek out. It also could be a great opportunity for you to be involved further, by meeting the artists and discussing what they’re doing outside of a commercial context. It’s especially important to support artists of colour so we can move well beyond the history of art fairs being white spaces for white people.

For those of us who aren’t usually buyers, maybe now is the time to start! Starting small is easiest, and with the help of Art Money you could also buy big. Art Money allows you to take your artwork home and pay for it later with 10 interest free payments. It’s linked to certain commercial galleries and will help you start up your collection. You don’t need to be a millionaire to buy art! But don’t leave this article thinking Sydney Contemporary is all about sales. In partnership with Copyright Agency, Sydney Contemporary is able to offer a brilliant series of talks called TALK Contemporary which will run throughout the fair, allowing the fair to lead conversations around the art market and industry as well as facilitating conversations between artists.

Here are a few to get you thinking about your choices ahead of making new purchases:

As part of the VIP preview on 12 September, TALK Contemporary presents Sheilas in the Art Market. Moderated by Angela Goddard, board member/Director of SHEILA and current Director of the Griffith University Art Museum, panellists Miranda Samuels, (The Countess), Merryn Schriever (CEO, Bonhams), Barry Keldoulis (Fair Director, Sydney Contemporary), Marco Navone (Associate Professor, UTS) and Marion Borgelt (artist) will outline the latest statistics and discuss the primary and secondary markets for artworks by women artists. RSVP 

On 13 September, Penelope Benton, NAVA’s General Manager, will moderate “Abuse of power comes as no surprise”, which explores the politics of power within the art world, discussing the impact of the #metoo movement on creative industries, where the perception of the workplace environment is often less well defined, and how artists and art workers negotiate, reference and give voice to dissent in the face of power and its abuse. Speakers include: Deborah Kelly (artist), Vincent Silk (writer), Nasim Nasir (artist) and Julie Ewington (independent writer, curator and broadcaster). RSVP 

Also on 13 September at 4:00pm Jeff Khan will moderate “The Politicised Body” which discusses how a body can either uphold or defy systems of oppression and how artists use their bodies in their work. Speakers include: Cigdem Aydemir (artist), Amrita Hepi (dancer and writer), Julie- Ann Long (dance artist and academic), and, Kelli Jean Drinkwater (filmmaker and artist) RSVP 

 On Friday 14 September at 12:30pm Copyright Agency is hosting a panel, “Return to Country” discussing the ownership of indigenous cultural and intellectual property. The panel includes Stephanie Parkin (Copyright Agency), Sophia Marinos (Namatjira Legacy Trust), Blak Douglas (artist) and is moderated by Oliver Watts (Artbank). RSVP 

On Saturday 15 September at 2:30pm “Rangituhaha; Ascending and Descending Māori Notions of Time” Nigel Borell Māori Art Curator, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Robert Jahnke, Professor of Māori Visual Arts, Massey University in Palmerston North will be discussing the work of Robert Jahnke and the Maori creation narratives that he works with. RSVP 

Also, on Saturday, will be a rendition of the Bankstown Poetry Slam, Australia’s largest poetry slam. This one will feature Layla Mkhayber, Alex Robinson, Andrew Cox, and Roje Ndayambaje. RSVP 


* Please note that CoUNTess methodology is not perfect nor was it originally designed to count any other genders than male and female. Countess have adapted this methodology to try and account for the broader spectrum of genders but it is a tricky and complex proposition that they are currently exploring with various Countess collaborators. As such, when they say that they did not find any non-binary identifying artists in the current or future section in 2017, this is true only so far as their methodology was concerned.