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Why auction house Sotheby’s is getting rid of its ‘art girl’ models

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Moya Crockett
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For years, women have posed alongside artworks on sale at the luxury auctioneers’. That’s about to change. 

Earlier this year, Formula One announced that it would no longer be hiring women as ‘grid girls’ at motor races. In response to the news, some critics argued that it was symptomatic of how middle-class feminism can cause working-class women to lose out on well-paid employment.

“It seems to be well-off, if not privately educated then certainly middle-class women, mostly based in London, telling working-class women – many of whom are single parents in the provinces – what they can and can’t do,” said former grid girl and model Rachel Reid, neatly summing up that particular strand of argument.

Of course, there are plenty of working-class women who find it uncomfortable to see other women being overtly sexualised in public – particularly when there are so few examples of men being ogled in the same way. Now, however, we have an example of a distinctly upper-crust establishment making a move away from using female models.

Auction house Sotheby’s has confirmed that it is ending the practice of using ‘art girls’ in its official sale photos. For years, photographs released by auctioneers’ such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s have inevitably featured a young woman gazing at the wildly expensive artwork or antique on sale, apparently to enliven what would otherwise be a relatively dull shot. 

Sotheby’s said it would continue working with professional art handlers of all genders 

In a statement, Sotheby’s said that it wanted to ensure that each piece was “shown to our audiences around the world in as varied and engaging a way as possible so as to best reflect its medium, size and subject matter”.

A spokeswoman told The Times that the auction house was “moving with the times”, adding: “We are constantly exploring new and creative ways of presenting the extraordinary art and objects we are lucky enough to handle.”

Sotheby’s also emphasised that it would continue to work with a range of male and female professional art handlers.

Speaking to stylist.co.uk last month, motorsport journalist Lee McKenzie – who presents Channel 4’s Formula One coverage – said that while she understood why some people might feel upset about the ban on grid girls, she thought it was ultimately for the best.

“Much of the problem was how promoters and sponsors were choosing to dress the models […] As the pinnacle of motorsport, it was important for Formula One to take the lead,” she said.

McKenzie added that while female models might no longer stand on the grid itself at Formula One, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t appear elsewhere at the event.

“Recently we have seen sponsor girls at raves and in the paddock – they just aren’t on the grid,” she said. “So whilst they might be less visible on the grid that’s not entirely the case [elsewhere] in the sporting industry.”

Images: Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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