The Women Art Dealers Digital Archives (WADDA), co-founded and co-directed by Véronique Chagnon-Burke and Caterina Toschi, is a new project to examine and elevate women art dealers’ contributions to today’s art world and the larger art-history canon. WADDA aims to provide a centralized resource and digital-lab space where traditional research may be conducted, and innovative approaches to analyzing conventional data may be tested and applied. The history of the art market is frequently relegated to collections of ledgers and receipts, with agents’ and actors’ motivations plumbed no deeper than mercantilist perspectives or personality flaws. Within this already superficial accounting, the history of women dealers often reads myopically, with educations, motivations, and rich professional and social lives circumscribed to the shadow of male authority.
The first phase of WADDA aims to collect, digitize, and make accessible the abundant but disparate data sets which elucidate women art dealers’ footprint on the primary art market’s embrace of modern and contemporary art, thus contributing to trace a network of private and public women-run gallery archives. Beyond collating a reasoned selection of photographs, catalogs, and other gallery ephemera, construction of the digital archive will produce an emergent narrative of women dealers’ geographical and chronological propagation of the ideas now considered foundational to critical appreciation of modern and contemporary art. Beginning in the well-researched European capitals of the 19th century, WADDA will follow modern art from its first tepid reception in continental salons through its celebration in western cultural capitals, and to its export to developing markets in South America, Asia, and Africa.
WADDA’s second phase will apply principles of data science and machine learning—with a specific focus on reading photographic documents—to the growing archive to reveal trends previously obscured by the sheer volume of relevant data. Envisioned as a largely autonomous interactive digital platform, WADDA users will be able to collaboratively engage with colleagues across disciplines, to devise and implement new applications of big-data principles for the archive. Whether as new patterns and themes to explore, or new ways to visualize established concepts, WADDA’s innovative articulation of scholarship hopes to enhance research methodology as much as it informs the specific research for which it has been accessed.