The fact that women are gradually achieving gender parity in a historically male-dominated art market was underscored last month at Art Basel, where the fair’s biggest sale at $40 million ($33 million pounds) was a large steel spider by the late Louise Bourgeois.
In auctions, female artists are taking more and more space, even a leading role. A look at the list of contributors to last week’s £425million modern and contemporary art sales in London shows that women are the main barrier-breakers in the 20th century sections.
A notable figure was Barbara Hepworth, for whom Bonhams made a record £517,000 for a painting, while Christie’s achieved a record £5.8 million for a sculpture. Another, signaling the way forward for the younger generation, was British pop artist Pauline Boty, who died in 1966 at the tragic age of 28. His 1962 portrayal of French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo fetched a record £1.2million. The painting had been entrusted by a recently divorced French woman, who bought it when the artist was rediscovered in 1999 for around £4,000.
The biggest leap for female artists, however, is in the 21st century sector. Last May in New York, Sotheby’s held “The Now” sale, in which the auction house focused solely on art from this century and boxed the first 10 lots with the hottest female artists. requested, setting records for most of them.
A hyper-realistic painting, Falling Woman (2020), by Anna Weyant, a new young artist and partner of septuagenarian super-dealer Larry Gagosian, sold for an estimate of eight times $1.6 million in its second sale auction only. Queer and mixed-race American Christina Quarles saw her record soar from $400,000 in February 2021 to $4.5 million, boosted by her new agent, Hauser & Wirth.
Of the 18 works that exceeded the estimates for this sale, 13 were made by women. One was the first work at auction by African-American figurative painter Jennifer Packer, who enjoyed a glowing exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in 2020. Her 13-foot-wide painting, Fire Next Time (2012), won doubled estimates to sell for $2.3 million.