Sotheby’s paused its “Glitch-ism” auction Sunday, days after its March 24 launch, after prominent glitch artists pointed out that the auction, held by Sotheby’s digital art marketplace Metaverse, didn’t have a single woman artist represented.
“Sotheby’s is pausing Natively Digital: Glitch-ism to redress the imbalance in representation within the sale, and will relaunch with a more equitable and diverse group of artists at a later date,” read a Tweet by Sotheby’s Metaverse published Sunday.
Artist Patrick Amadon announced Sunday on Twitter that he was pulling his artwork from the sale in “solidarity” with female and queer glitch artists. He was the only artist to do so.
A part of Sotheby’s recurring Natively Digital sale, “Glitch-ism” was supposed to be a historic moment for “glitch art,” which hasn’t been represented in a major auction before. Glitch art defines an interest in the aesthetic, poetic, and political suggestions represented by the glitch, from eruptions of static to “deep fried,” pixelated video.
The “glitch,” as the representation of a failure, and the opportunities and slippage that can entail, has attracted many female and queer artists, including, for example, curator Legacy Russell, whose book Glitch Feminism introduced audiences to the feminist connection to the medium when it was released in 2020.
“To have an all-male show in 2023 seems entirely out of tune. But to do this in to the glitch genre is just whack,” Rosa Menkman, a glitch artist, told ARTnews.
Menkman noticed that one of her works was being used in the auction’s description of the history of glitch art, in which Menkman was credited not only for her pioneering work in the field, but also for her theorization. While Sotheby’s recognized her contributions, the auction house didn’t include her. What really bothered Menkman, however, wasn’t her own exclusion, but a lack of historical awareness about glitch art as a movement molded since its inception by female and queer artists.
“I don’t believe an auction house needs to define a genre, nor its aesthetic or its genealogies. But, like any institution, they need to take some responsibilities and show a certain level of care.” said Menkman “If they don’t – it’s bad for everything including their own credibility.”
Davis Brown, a Sotheby’s pre-sale coordinator who organized the sale, reached out to glitch experts like Dawnia Darkstone to get more background research on the genre and recommendations for artists that would be a good fit. In a series of emails that Darkstone published on Twitter Sunday, Darkstone made clear that she would love to consult on the show, just not for free. Brown told Darkstone that the auction was “closed for consignment” and did not respond to her offer of consultation services. In an email to ARTnews, Sotheby’s said it routinely negotiates fees with consultants.
“I was quite irritated with them for asking for my consultation without compensation, but when I opened the sales page and saw Rosa Menkman’s work front and center I was still excited,” Darkstone told ARTnews. Then she realized that neither Menkman nor any other female or queer artists had been included. “That felt like a slap in the face,” she sadded.
As conversation about the show heated up online, Amadon, who recently had a work censored in Hong Kong, caught wind and decided to pull out.
“It just didn’t feel right participating in the show and I wanted to be in solidarity with female and nonbinary glitch artists,” Amadon told ARTnews. “I’m very aware that [being excluded from] sales can perpetuate a cycle in which people who are deserving of representation get cut out, because sales create their own momentum.”
Menkman and Darkstone said that they have since been contacted by Sotheby’s with tentative offers to participate in the show as an artist and curator respectively. Darkstone said the outcome was an exciting result from a moment of protest.
“I feel cautiously optimistic,” said Darkstone. “I think it shows that art communities coming together and speaking out against injustice can really make a difference.”