It’s no secret that the ever-changing algorithms of internet spaces complicate things for creatives. Throw in an oversaturated market and visibility-inhibiting mechanisms, and it’s easy to feel defeated. Nuria Madrenas felt there had to be a more constructive and user-friendly way for creators—specifically, visual artists—to be discovered. An illustrator herself, she also felt that the internet art space lacked the curatorial touch of a brick-and-mortar gallery, and dreamed for there to be an accessible place for other women artists to not only exist, but flourish.
“I had been a freelance artist for a couple of years and I had explored selling my work on external channels beyond my Instagram, and nothing had really resonated with me,” Madrenas says via video. “I find that there is a lot of oversaturation on a lot of existing marketplaces where it’s really difficult to discover new artists. So for someone like me who didn’t have a crazy social media following, I needed the opportunity to leverage either the community of somebody else or a larger channel.”
With an extensive background in marketing and public relations for companies such as Holt Renfrew, Nars, Byredo, and Céline, she was tapped into the visual branding side of the art market, as well, and knew she wasn’t alone in her frustration. “I had created a lot of relationships with other artists because I was working with them on campaigns,” she says. And these artists were expressing the same pain points: they didn’t know where to sell their work, or how to reach a broader audience.
Mending this gap, Madrenas, who is based in Toronto, founded Mrkt Gallery: an online shop for women artists to sell their work and achieve discoverability. She curates Mrkt’s offering on the basis of empowerment, and is devoted to celebrating diverse creators in a way that is approachable for the emerging collector. At first glance, the gallery reads as an unapologetic serenade of femininity as a whole: line drawings that trace the female form; illustrations and photos that illuminate stories rooted in heritage; and paintings that emanate the brooding and beautiful. Dredging deeper through these themes and visuals, though, it’s clear that Mrkt goes beyond simply showcasing womanliness, and is actively working to reimagine how we see, consume, and define art by and for women.
“I recognized that there was a massive misrepresentation of female artists specifically, accounting for a mere two percent of the art sold globally. Which is crazy, especially in relation to the amount of female talent,” Madrenas explains. “You start thinking, ‘How can that be?’ So I figured I would dedicate the platform to female artists. I really created a strong community of artists, and from there it just snowballed into people referring the platform to their friends—and it gained this traction, not only across the country but internationally.”
Though the main goal of the gallery is to serve as an accessible touchpoint between artist and collector, Mrkt also provides feedback to the artists in the form of sales analytics, mimicking the business tools of popular social media platforms in a more personal way. The artists can then incorporate these insights into their creative and manufacturing processes, ultimately resulting in more business.
Compounded by the lack of fair representation in the art industry, the success of many woman creators is limited to what the cultural lexicon even classifies as art. Though many art markets have been open to the abstract, many still have historically refused to allow some forms of expression to exist within the canon as a whole—often purely due to their ties to womanhood or relativity to female expression and perspective. From pieces encompassing needlepoint to gastronomy, creative women have historically been penalized for doing “women’s work.” This is deeply damaging, positioning the male gaze at the center of art and manufacturing; so really, it’s no wonder that the consumer then follows suit.
For Mandrenas, this sentiment has fueled her to incorporate artists that dabble outside of pen, paint, paper, and canvas, opening doors and perspectives to art that exists in unassuming corners. Take Toronto cookie artist Lindsey Gazel. Far from your average sugar cookie baker, Gazel is known for thought-provoking edible art, like her replica of the crazed 2014 Kim Kardashian Paper Magazine cover; work that reimagines the garments from brands like Chanel, Hermes, and Nike; and iconic tropes from modern pop culture like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Madrenas tapped Gazel to kick off Mrkt’s 2021 International Women’s Day campaign with a limited-edition collection of art cookies. The delicious and accessibly-priced treats are recreations of six of Mrkt’s top-selling artworks, all centering on themes of women’s empowerment. In a time when we are simultaneously more connected and disconnected than ever, the collection serves as a meaningful way to quite literally consume and share art with others, all while supporting a network of incredibly talented creators. Championing other women—now that’s what we call women’s work.