Female artists and big money results…

[22 Jul 2014]


Women artists and the art market… Now there’s a difficult subject! For years art critics, historians, art market specialists, museum curators and even art fair directors have denounced the huge gap between the values of artworks produced by women and men. While some consider this debate to be anchored in old-fashioned cultural preconceptions, it has to be admitted that these old ideas and habits appear to be remarkably resistant to the evolution of gender equality.

As any analysis will show, the price differential in the art market between men and women is very substantial and at the high end of the market, the difference is enormous. The highest priced female artists have not yet crossed the $10 million threshold, while the top male artists are now changing hands for over $100 million: Nathalie GONTCHAROVA and Louise BOURGEOIS have auction records of $9.6m ($10.8m including fees, for Les Fleurs) and $9.5m ($10.7m including fees, for Spider) respectively while Francis BACON’s Three studies of Lucian Freud fetched $127m (over $142 m including fees), Edvard MUNCH’s The scream fetched $107m (nearly 120m including fees), Pablo PICASSO’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for $95m (over $106m including fees) and Mark ROTHKO’s Orange, Red, Yellow went under the hammer for $77.5m (nearly $87m including fees). This is clearly not a good example of equality.

The leading female Impressionist painter, Berthe MORISOT, has an auction record of $9.7m, (nearly $11m including fees, for Après le déjeuner, Christie’s London, 6 February 2013) but her male Impressionist peers, Claude MONET and Pierre-Auguste RENOIR, have records of $71.8m (80.5m including fees, for Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, at Christie’s, 24 June 2008) et $71m ($78.1 m including fees, for the famous Au Moulin de la Galette, at Sotheby’s on 17 May 1990).

There are of course a number of exceptions to this overall view. Sonia DELAUNAY-TERK best price is only a about a $1m below her companion’s (Robert Delaunay), while Frida KAHLO’s is $2m better than Diego Rivera’s (Sonia Delaunay got close to $4m with Le marché au Minho at Calmels-Chambre-Cohen in 2002 and Robert DELAUNAY’s record stands at $5.2 m for la Tour Eiffel at Christie’s in February 2012. Diego RIVERA’s record has remained unchanged since 1995 at $2.8m for Baile en Tehuanpec, whereas Frida Kahlo’s record stands at $5m since the sale of Roots in 2006). However, whether we look at Old masters, Moderns, Contermporary or living artists, women artists are very clearly under-valued compared to male artists.

If we focus exclusively on living artists for example – male and female – all over the world, we find only 16 women have crossed the $1m threshold compared to 195 men. Living male artists therefore account for 93% of the best auction results for living artists around the globe. The 16 female artists who have crossed at least once into 7-figure territory are (in ranked as follows: Yayoi Kusama (34th best result), Marlène Dumas (40th), Rosemarie Trockel (51st), Julie Mehretu (52nd), Bridget Riley (54th), Cindy Sherman (73rd), Jenny Saville (79th), Vija Celmins (117th), Beatriz Milhazes (119th), Lee Bontecou (134th), Adriana Varejao (147th), Tauba Auerbach (155th), Elizabeth Peyton (165th), Cecily Brown (169th), Lisa Yuskavage (183rd) and Paula Rego (202nd).

Although there are a lot more artists nowadays and although certain dealers are clearly trying to correct this imbalance, the under-valuation of women is still persisting in the Contemporary art scene. The highest priced female Contemporary artist, Yayoi KUSAMA, has no less than 33 male artists ahead of her, and her record is one tenth of the top male artist’s auction record (the price difference between her record and Jeff KOONS’ is 47 million dollars! Jeff Koons is of course the leader of the Contemporary art market with a top price of $52m in November 2013 for his giant sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange) sculpture at Christie’s, whereas Kusama’s top price is $5.1m for a “historic” canvas painted in 1959, (No.2) sold via Christie’s New York on 18 November 2008).

The last of the sixteen female Contemporary artists in this ranking, Paula Rego, has a record that rivals those of artists like Subodh Gupta, Matthew Barney and Julian Schnabel. But she had to work between twenty and thirty years more to earn an equivalent level of recognition (she was born in 1935).