Recent institutional interest in female artists may be having a knock-on effect on the broader art market. All-female commercial exhibitions are on the rise, designed to raise the visibility—and profitability—of women artists who until now have accounted for a relatively minuscule part of the art market.
Industry insiders say the growing institutional recognition of women artists coincides with a slew of recent auction records and a genuine desire to redress a long-standing gender imbalance in all corners of the art world—all factors that point to the potential for further market momentum.
In one high-profile example, next month, Sotheby’s will open a joint show of works by two of the best-known (and most expensive) female artists of the 20th century,
. Titled “Traumata: Bourgeois / Kusama,” the exhibition takes place at the auction house’s London private-selling gallery, S|2, from late February through mid-April. It has a feminist bent, examining how both artists built careers in New York’s male-dominated art scene in the 1950s and ’60s.
Isabelle Paagman, the European head of private sales at Sotheby’s, says a series of successful results at auction has led Sotheby’s to be more proactive when it comes to sourcing and selling works by women. In last June’s contemporary evening sale, women accounted for 21 percent of the overall value. That spike in value can, in part, be attributed to the record £6.8m achieved for ’s
monumental “body pile” painting, Shift
(1996-7), which had been estimated to sell for £1.5m to £2m. However, at Sotheby’s July 2015 sale, women accounted for just 2% of the total value, the auction house said.
Only around 50 percent of the works in “Traumata: Bourgeois / Kusama” are reportedly for sale (Sotheby’s declined to give prices). But both Kusama and Bourgeois also have works coming up in the house’s March 8th contemporary evening sale, which falls on International Women’s Day—a coincidence Sotheby’s is happy to capitalize on. A 2003 vitrine by Bourgeois is estimated to sell for between £800,000 and £1.2 million and an Infinity Net canvas painted by Kusama in 2007 is expected to go for between £500,000 and £700,000.
Sotheby’s is hardly testing the water here: Bourgeois holds the record for the most expensive sculpture by a woman to be sold at auction (a within-estimate $28.2 million in November 2015 for her nine-foot bronze Spider
, 1997) and Kusama once held the auction price record for any living female artist ($7.1 million for her painting White No. 28
(1960) in 2014) before being dethroned by Cady Noland. Works by
, whose auction record was broken three times in 2016, are also due to go under the hammer, with consignments still being made prior to publication.