Forget Richter, Warhol and Picasso: Where Are All the Women?
by Kathryn Tully, Contributor, Forbes Online
One of the more edifying results of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale in London last night was that a new world auction record was set for a female artist when Berthe Morisot’s 1881 oil painting Après le déjeuner sold for £6,985,250, including the buyer’s premium, or $10,980,813.
On February 6 2013 in London, this painting by Berthe Morisot set a world auction record for a female artist during Christie’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale. (Image credit: Christie’s Images Ltd)
That was only around $100,000 more than Natalia Goncharova’s Les fleurs sold for in 2008, but still, it was enough to stop Modigliani hogging all the headlines.
It’s great that the work of a few women artists, including Louise Bourgeois, have now sold for over $10 million, but why aren’t more women artists selling works at this level in the secondary market? Or for that matter, why aren’t they matching the prices fetched by Richter, Warhol and Picasso?
According to Skate’s 2012 Art Investment Report, the top female artists by the total value of their auction sales last year were Joan Mitchell, Tamara de Lempicka and Louise Bourgeois. Joan Mitchell’s work raised over $24 million at auction last year, but auction sales of work top three male artists, Warhol, Richter and Picasso, came to over $250 million. That’s over $250 million each.
Clearly, it would be pretty stupid to confuse the artistic importance of an individual with their importance in the art market. That could only be trumped in the absurdity stakes by saying that women obviously aren’t good at painting because the art market doesn’t value their work, as artist Georg Baselitz did in Der Spiegel last week.
Nevertheless, something is stopping women matching the sales results of male artists at auction. Shane Ferro wrote an eloquent dismissal of Baselitz’s extraordinary position on Artinfo last week and suggested that the reason why art works by female artists do not yet command the prices fetched by those of their male counterparts is that the push for women to be elevated to the same status as men has only taken off in the last 40 years.
Therefore, although they are gaining momentum in the art market, women have not caught up yet, largely because there aren’t many collectors who are young enough to hold more equitable gender views, but also have tens of millions of dollars to slap down on a painting.
This last point seems reasonable and perhaps begins to explain why a select band of contemporary women in other creative spheres, such as J.K.Rowling, have achieved more commercial success than any of their peers, while the top contemporary female artists, in the secondary market at least, are still languishing behind. But can this be the only reason? Should museums, galleries, and yes, auction houses be doing more to promote the work of female artists?
Highlighting the work of women appears to be a commercial win for museums, at least. Last year’s Cindy Sherman retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was a big success, while people lined up for hours to see Maria Abramovic at MoMA back in 2010.
It’s high time the art market woke up.
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