Burns-Halperin Report Shows Art World Diversifying at a Snail’s Pace

The third edition of the Burns-Halperin Report, a publication inaugurated in 2018 by independent editor Charlotte Burns and Artnet News’s Julia Halperin, arrived today with the disheartening news that collections at US museums are far from representing their publics. According to the report, which investigates the representation of Black American artists, female-identifying artists, and Black American female-identifying artists in US museums and the global art market, progress is largely nonexistent in the American art world, while the international arena is evolving, if not at the speed one might hope for.

After and looking at the acquisitions and exhibitions taking place at thirty-one American museums between 2008 and 2020, the study’s authors concluded that work by female-identifying artists accounted for 10.7 percent of acquisitions during the cited span and that of Black American artists a shocking 2.7 percent. A mere 0.5 percent of acquisitions were of work by Black American women. For the collections to accurately reflect the population of the United States, acquisitions of works by female-identifying and Black American artists would need to increase fivefold; that of Black American women artists would have to increase by a factor of thirteen. Contemporary art museums were revealed to be diversifying their collections faster than any of their US counterparts, with work by women accounting for 48 percent of their purchases; that by Black American artists nearly 9 percent, and that by Black American female artists—who make up 6.6 percent of the US population—3 percent.

Acquisitions of work by women was shown to have peaked in 2009, with slight rises occurring in the 2016 and 2017, after the rise of the #MeToo movement. Institutional acquisitions of work by Black American artists topped out in 2015, two years after the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Racism and sexism informed not just the purchases of institutions but those made in the broader art market. Investigation of global auction results spanning 2008 to mid-2022 showed that works by Black American artists accounted for just 2 percent of sales; that by Black American female-identifying artists comprised 0.1 percent. Sales of work by Spanish modernist Pablo Picasso remained strong during that span: Totaling $6.23 billion, they accounted for a larger share of the market than the combined sales of work by all women.

“When we started the Burns Halperin Report in 2018, we had a clear goal: to use data to track whether the mainstream art world really was providing overdue recognition to Black American artists, as was the dominant media narrative at the time,” noted Halperin in a press release.

“If that were true—in the middle of the Trump presidency—then the art world represented some kind of utopian alternative to the rest of society,” said Burns. “If it was not true, we figured, we should stop repeating it.”


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