Sotheby's cancels auction after artist withdraws over lack of female representation

Famous auction house decided to pause NFT auction Natively Digital: Glitch-ism after Patrick Amadon canceled his participation because the event did not represent any female artists

Drawing of a woman painting a picture
Patrick Amadon tries to address the issue of a large gender gap in the art community

Yesterday, auction house Sotheby's Metaverse informed the Twitter art community of its plan to pause the online NFT auction Natively Digital: Glitch-ism, which was scheduled to start on March 24 and end on March 31.

In the auction announcement, Sotheby's explained the core of the genre as art that "involves the intentional creation of errors and glitches, a sudden, usually temporary malfunction, in digital media such as images, videos, and sound," adding that the popularity of glitch "has been fueled in part by the rise of social media and the Internet, which have made it easier for artists to share their work and connect with others who share their passion for the medium. The rise of NFTs have further enabled artists working in this digital medium to widen their audience and develop a community of their own on a much larger scale."

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The auction house emphasized the importance of acknowledging the fact that "while this style makes work appear similar to one another, there is quite a bit of nuance between artists."

That nuance has turned into a nuisance for Sotheby's, which, for unknown reasons, has not included any female-identifying artists in the auction. The lack of such representatives was noticed by one of the leading artists of the glitch genre, Patrick Amadon, who is also known for his pro-social actions.

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On March 24, Amadon's artwork "No Rioters," which refers to imprisoned Chinese dissidents, was removed from the billboard at the SOGO Causeway Bay Store, where it had been displayed for about a week.

"I am pulling my work from the Sotheby's sale. While I believe it was a genuine oversight and the team means well, the lack of representation is a serious issue and we need to address this in our space. Female-identifying artists have played a major role in the Glitch movement," Amadon shared his decision with the Twitter community.

The majority of Twitter users expressed their respect for Amadon and fascination with his high principles. Participation in an auction organized by a prestigious institution is a great possibility for creators to promote their works and earn decent payment. However, Amadon intentionally resigned from this opportunity so he can stand with other artists and bring equality to the art space.

Some Twitter users also admired the reaction of Amadon, who, instead of criticizing Sotheby's, respectfully noted what can be improved. Twitter user Rachel Hazlet-Karr responded to Amadon, "It's not always our natural reaction to ask for what we do want instead of opposing what we don't."

While many artists, regardless of gender, admitted that Sotheby's should have curated the list of auction participants allowing artists identifying themselves as women to take part in the event, some users believe that the hosts of the auction did not think carefully enough about the selection of artists, rather than intentionally excluded many talented artists. Others also mentioned the difficulty of finding the right balance between all the groups representing the artists of the glitch genre while focusing on skills and talent.

3D artist Nicole Ruggiero recommended that the auction house should particularly invite artist Dawnia Darkstone aka Letsglitchit to participate in the event. As Ruggiero replied to Sotheby's Metaverse on Twitter, "You should add Letsglitchit to this lineup, especially since you all thought it was okay to hit her up for free consultation on the original show, which is wild. This is your chance to make things right."

Some Twitter users even mentioned that the auction would not be "legitimate" without renowned female glitch artists Letsglitchit, Xelda Jara, and Luluxxx.

The problem of female underrepresentation at auctions may seem trivial to those outside the art community. For example, to some users of the Web3 news aggregator Cryptopanic, it appeared that diversity is now valued more than real talent. User Tsu_long wrote, "I'm all for live and let live, but this idea that there needs to be more of this or more of that is sickening. What if no women want to make NFTs? Are now NFTs far-right misogyny just by lack of enthusiasm?"

While this approach may appear sensible, especially to people without comprehensive knowledge of the underlying problem as well as the history of glitch art and its prominent creators, the unsettling statistics published by Forbes in a 2022 article stated that "of the $196.6 billion spent at art auctions between 2008 and 2019, work produced by women accounted for only $4 billion, or around 2% of the total sales."

The article compared the top prices of works by currently living artists and reported that "Propped" by Jenny Saville fetched only $12 million, while Jeff Koon's "Rabbit" earned him $91 million.

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According to Forbes, 18 major US art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art (LACMA), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), have 87% of works created by male artists and 85% by white artists.

This trend also affects the latest art media. Female-identifying artists receive only 5% of the money generated by NFTs.