Thrill of the chase

Art collecting - Who is the first to go for the kill on the auction floor? Rosie Millard on the prim

Collectors are the often unsung but vital third side of the triangle that is the art world. We all know about artists and galleries, but collectors are a relatively unknown quantity, even though their existence ensures the livelihood of the other two.

Having one's own private art collection is extremely desirable and chic, and is not at all the same as bunging a few paintings up in the sitting room. "What a wonderful addition to your art collection," someone said to me after I had won the Tracey Emin rosette depicted here at a Tate art quiz. Yes, but no, but yes. I'd love to think I had an art collection, but one Emin does not a Saatchi Gallery make.

I'd need to be a bit more like my friend, the collector and former gallerist Mary-Jane Aladren, whose north London walls are crammed with immaculate pieces of contemporary art. "I think I am a collector because I intrinsically want to admire. I like admiring things, and people. I want to marvel at things and be amazed by how clever something is, or how it has been conceived and brought together," says Aladren, who collects with her barrister husband, Glen Davis. Together, they go on scouting trips to young galleries or artist-curated shows in London, New York and elsewhere, picking up paintings, sculpture, video works and installations by people who are about to make it big, or who have just done so.

"We have recently come back from being thoroughly naughty in New York, buying two pieces from private galleries and pursuing four others from PS1 MoMA," says Aladren. "Glen has been collecting for 15 years and I've been collecting seriously for ten, but for the past six years we have been collecting together." Indeed, collecting as a double act appears to be the norm in the contemporary art world. I ask her what has been her best purchase. "Ten years ago, I bought a painting on paper by James Siena, who is now with Pace Wildenstein in New York. That's a good sign."

It would appear, however, that Aladren is something of an anomaly. "Most of my clients are male," says Bernard Jacobson, whose Cork Street gallery specialises in high-end British and American art from the 1940s to the present day. "There are women collectors, but 90 per cent of the time it's the male who does the passionate buying. As for couples, I usually find that when a man gets a wife to come and look at whatever he is interested in, we lose the sale. I suppose it has a lot to do with the men having the money. Men make the money and they buy art or fast cars or whatever. It's as simple as that." Men have a visceral pleasure in acquiring art, says Jacobson, which is not usually matched in women. "Very rarely do I have women coming in who seem passionate about art. It's virtually a sexual thing. Maybe it's a sexual substitute! Women will maybe tolerate it, but it's usually the man who says 'Oh God, I LOVE that'. It's a very male thing, particularly in America."

According to the art market expert Godfrey Barker, widows are fantastic collectors. "Like Barbara Piasecka Johnson, the Johnson & Johnson heiress," he says. "But in the market for old master paintings, I can't think of a single woman collector who acts on her own. And there is one market where there are no women collectors at all, which is silver. I think they think they might have to clean it. As for women collectors in the British modern and contemporary art market, I can only think of Janet de Botton."

Louisa Buck - the author of Market Matters, an analysis of the art business, and a forthcoming handbook on how to collect contemporary works - insists that a great many women have a great deal of say in what gets bought in the contemporary art world. "Women may be working in conjunction with their husbands, but to say the market is dominated by men is not true. Women definitely have as much power. They may not always hold the purse strings, but they will have as much say as their husbands. And often they go solo - for instance, Ingvild Gotz, who is one of the world's leading collectors of contemporary art."

And yet Buck does believe there is a difference between the ways men and women operate. "Men can be more adversarial than women," she says. "I think they have more of the old hunter-gatherer zest. They like the thrill of the chase, pitting their wits against the dealers and getting first in the queue. Also, men do it more for pure investment purposes. I think women are more considered."

"It is really time that women stopped treating themselves as a minority spe-cies," snorts Barker. "Women happen to be human beings as well as women. Twenty-five years of art history have been wasted isolating a group of artists who have nothing in common apart from being female. Did you know that there is a crazy women-only gallery opening in London this week? I have received an invitational blurb to the opening night that implies men will be invited as a sort of special extra, not as part of the human race.

"Why do I hate this approach so much?" Barker asks. "Women want to be seen as victims in some way that I cannot get at. If there was ever something that needed to be kicked, it is that great art is totally independent of gender. And that goes for great art collections."

Rosie Millard was previously Arts Editor for the NS and a Theatre Critic. She was the Arts Correspondent for BBC News for 10 years and is now a broadsheet columnist. She lives in London with heaps of small children, which may partially explain her love of going to the theatre.
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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.