When asked about discrimination against women artists, abstract expressionist Lee Krasner said the prejudice is as old as Judeo-Christian history. Dismissing the weight of that realization, she added, “I can’t do anything about these 5,000 years.” She paints anyway, as do women throughout the ages who have continued to create despite official disdain.
Centuries and decades later, it seems their persistence may finally pay off. Galleries are adding more women to their lists, museums like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence are sweeping their storage facilities in search of treasures worth showing off, and many institutions are holding exhibitions of women’s art. . On the eve of this fall’s auction season, the art market appears to be experiencing a long-awaited correction.
While the highest price ever paid for a work of art by a woman continues to be a small fraction of that of men, last spring in New York City auction records were broken for works by 15 women artists, including Krasner’s Abstract Expressionist colleagues, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Grace Hartigan. Along with other important paintings of women on offer this season – including those by Frankenthaler rare work from 1959, “Rouge Square“ – there is every reason to expect more records to fall.
Anyone looking to invest in art should take this into account.
Climate change can be attributed to a multitude of causes: the increased attention to women’s rights in society, decades of feminist artist activism, and a simple question of economics. But a far more gratifying reason is the belated recognition that women’s work deserves support and attention because it is worthy.
“From a market point of view, when you have 15 mediocre [Willem] de Koonings hits the market in one season and an amazing Joan Mitchell painting hits the market in one season, the market will gravitate towards quality, ”said Sara Friedlander, International Director and responsible for post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s New York. “When the quality is really there, the market explodes. “
During the art market’s first gold rush in the mid-1950s, Fortune magazine advised its readers to invest in art. He identified three categories: the great masters (a description that denotes long-standing gender bias), “first-rate” works, and the “speculative” or “growth” domain. The latter group included paintings by newly discovered artists, which, although a risky investment, had enormous potential. The unknown Fortune artists included in this category are largely last names today: de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Larry Rivers. One of their female colleagues was notably absent from the list.
Today’s “growth” area would undoubtedly include them. Women artists have been neglected for so long that their work – even though it was painted 70 years ago – seems new and avant-garde. For collectors, it has the irresistible allure of discovery.
“When you make a world record award for an artist, living or dead, there is a celebration that goes with it,” Ms. Friedlander said. ” But it is not that simple. It can’t just be that Joan Mitchell sells for $ 17 million; there must also be a real cultural and curatorial change in the way people look at this work.
We can say that this change is already underway. For women artists working today, even if the struggle for equal recognition is not won, this goal is closer, at least at the gallery level. A to study by the Guttman Community College at the University of the City of New York found that during the period 2016-2017 period, 30 percent of the artists represented by New York’s top galleries were women. While this figure is still too low, especially considering that women make up 51% of professional artists working in the United States, it is a big improvement from the late 1980s. count by the guerrillas Girls, feminist activist artists, found that the number of exhibitions by female artists in 17 of the major galleries during the period 1986-87 season was between zero and four. Now, female artists like Amy Sillman, Marlene Dumas and Kara Walker are as well known and influential as their male counterparts.
Ensuring that the momentum continues requires vigilance and commitment, because we’ve been here before. In 1957, two years after the famous Fortune article, female artists were all the rage, even celebrated in Life magazine as being “in ancestry.” But when market tastes shifted to Pop, women were once again relegated to their traditional place in art history – nowhere.
This story is not only false, it is built on a false premise. The history of Abstract Expressionism, for example, has been the history of a few macho men and yet the late art historian Irving Sandler told me that with female artists like Hartigan, Mitchell and Frankenthaler in the 1950s, “It was a new ball game. They opened it up to women, in part because they were “stronger” than any man of their generation.
In Western art, the names most often associated with the first non-objective abstract painting are Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Robert Delaunay, and Frantisek Kupka. Yet, as a new Guggenheim exhibition of works by the little-known Swedish artist Hilma af Klint which opens next month makes clear, Klint has created completely abstract works years before these men.
Indeed, women have made great art since artists first put charcoal on stone or oil on canvas, and there are many important works, old and new, made by women. . Curators and collectors need only adjust their goals and give this work its full value.