Women gallery owners The Rise of the Gallerista

Berlin's booming art scene has been dominated by male artists and gallery owners for years. But now a legion of young galleristas is mounting a fightback.
Berlin gallerista Anne Schwarz has made a conscious choice to represent women artists.

Name your three favorite artists. Finished? OK, now how many of them are male?

There's a good chance they all are. That's not surprising: The art world can be a macho place, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the wheeler-dealer atmosphere of galleries. Only 38 percent of gallerists in Germany are female, and just 25 percent of represented artists in German galleries are women, according to a 2013 study by the Institute for Strategy Development.

But the days of male domination may be numbered, with Berlin's booming art scene and more than 400 galleries at the forefront of a female fightback. At this year’s Gallery Weekend, the city's most important art event, 13 of the 47 participating galleries (28 percent) were female-owned.

In 2007, the figure was just five out of 26, or 15 percent.

Today, visitors to Berlin's galleries are almost as likely to come across the names of leading galleristas as they are their male counterparts. Think Tanya Leighton, Heike Tosun (Soy Capitan Gallery), Sabine Schmidt (PSM Gallery) and Isabella Bortolozzi who have all opened galleries in the past decade.

The recent rise of such young women into the league of top international, or blue-chip, gallery owners, is not easily explained. Some gallerists believe it is a result of Berlin's wider gallery boom, which naturally increases the number of women owners. Others point out that women have always been involved in Germany's art scene, but have only recently gained influential positions.

"I absolutely welcome that the number of women gallerists at Gallery Weekend has increased and that it is more balanced now,” said Maike Cruse, director of Gallery Weekend. She added that she hadn’t chosen galleries according to the sex of their owners but did pay attention to whether they represented female artists.

</a> Marlon Wobst's work at Anne Schwarz's gallery.


So who are the women who have stepped out from behind the gallery curtains?

Berlin's new set of young, female gallery founders were often former gallery assistants craving more responsibility before starting out on their own.

Tanja Wagner, who opened her gallery in Berlin in 2010 after working at the renowned Max Hetzler Gallery, said she was motivated by a desire to develop and market her own circle of artists, as well as be a mentor to them. “I wanted to grow with the artists I strongly believe in. I enjoy acting as an intermediary between artists, buyers, art institutions and the press to get their message out there,” she said.

As a woman, it was politically important to emphasize women artists. Monika Sprüth, Co-founder, Sprüth Magers gallery

Ms. Wagner believes that women face the same challenges as men when it comes to setting up and running their own gallery, but that they are more than equal to the challenge. “What I see as a distinctive trait in the female gallerists I have encountered in Berlin is a strong personality with no qualms about going their own way,” she said.

Ms. Cruse agrees. “Certainly, any male gallery owner would need to present the same characteristics to succeed in this tough market,” she said.

While less visible in days gone by, galleristas have always played an important part in Germany's art scene. Sprüth Magers, the female gallery duo of Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers, and Esther Schipper, set the trend in the early eighties and nineties. These pioneers made a point of promoting female artists in Germany.

"When I started out working with Rosemarie Trockel, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, representing female artists was historically overdue," Ms. Sprüth said. "As a woman, it was politically important to emphasize women artists at the time."

Today, artists such as Cindy Sherman are among the top earners in the art world, and Sprüth Mager's museum-like gallery in Berlin is very highly regarded.


Tanja Wagner set up her gallery in 2010.


“My idols are the women behind Sprüth Magers, without a doubt,” said Anne Schwarz, who opened her gallery in a quiet courtyard in trendy south Berlin.

Ms. Schwarz, like Ms. Wagner, made a conscious choice to represent female artists and cannot imagine featuring male artists only in her gallery program. “My choice of artists was no coincidence,” she said and noted that five of the nine artists represented by her gallery are women.

Of the nine artists Ms. Wagner represents, eight are women. That's crucial to her as she believes women artists are still underrepresented in Germany.

“It is important to me that I act as a corrective in that sense,” Ms. Wagner said.


Sarah Mewes is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition with a longstanding interest in the arts. Sandra Teitge, a curator and expert on the Berlin art world, contributed to this article. To contact the author: [email protected]