Previously published on Insights.
Art can be experienced in many ways, be it through artistic expression, gallery work, collecting, philanthropy or simple contemplation. Yet this open area of sensitivity, passion, and creativity has not made things easy for women. Catalina Tejero, Associate Head of the Arts and Humanities Division at IE University, talks to philanthropist and collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros about the progress made in this field in recent years.
Ella’s life has been linked to the world of art since she was very young. Her early calling to painting later led her to open her own gallery in Venezuela. That adventure brought her into constant contact with artists and enabled her to grow with them, thus awakening her passion for collecting art as a form of patronage.
Catalina Tejero: Your career shows a lifelong commitment to art. It is obviously a passion that you have pursued in different roles, as an artist, as a gallery owner and as a collector. One interesting aspect that I would like to ask you about is the role of women in this environment. What is your view on the progress made in recent years and how do you see the future?
Ella Fontanals-Cisneros: Women have been fighting for many years to play an active role in the vanguard of art. In the 1950s, for example, it was hard to find women in galleries. If we go back to the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there is little evidence of female artists, and those who wanted to buy works of art had to do so in secret, simply because they were women.
Catalina Tejero: Artists like Clara Peeters in the 17th century.
Ella Fontanals-Cisneros: Exactly. The role of women in the art market was very limited. We know, for example, that women didn’t buy works of art because only men were allowed to pay. I think that things have changed over the last 10, 20 or 25 years and now there are many galleries that are led by women. There are certain artistic periods in which the presence of women is very scarce in any of their areas. In the avant-garde, 80% of the artists are men and prices are now sky high. A success story that I like to share is that of Carmen Herrera. Carmen is a Cuban-American artist who I am very interested in. It took her a long time to reach a gallery in the United States. The answer was always the same: “I’m sorry, you’re a woman and we don’t have any space”. It’s been a long road, but things are changing fast and, in the next few years, we’ll be seeing more female artists; maybe even more than men.
Catalina Tejero: That would be interesting.
Ella Fontanals-Cisneros: Yes, we women are very strong.