This week in the Back Room: age-based divides among women artists, Stanley Whitney’s sharp ascent, a Belgian newbie bubbles up, and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,630 words).
Top of the Market
If you’ve been hoping for a narrowing of the gulf between how male and female artists’ works perform at auction, we have good news and bad news for you.
The good news? Since 2017, younger women artists have made dramatic strides toward gender parity within their age cohort.
The bad news? Works by men have still made up a disproportionately hefty share of auction sales no matter how else you slice the data. Worse, the power surge by younger women artists has not passed through to their critically renowned elders, who remain almost invisible to most bidders.
The Big Picture
For a recent column, Katya pulled auction data from 2017 through June 2022 for two age groups of female artists: those born between 1930 and 1974, and those born since 1975 (aka the ultra-contemporary period). First, she compared each age group’s sales to its male counterpart; then she looked at how the two generations of women fared relative to one another.
The gender face-off yielded the only measured signs of progress. According to the Artnet Price Database, over the sample period…
- Women in the older group made up only 5.3 percent of the $16.7 billion in global auction sales for all artists in their age bracket.
- Women in the younger group made up about 23 percent of the $1.7 billion worth of sales for all ultra-contemporary artists—still an inequitable share, but more than 4X that of their elders.
The most revealing insights came from Katya’s comparison between the two generations of women. “The results are shocking,” she wrote, “not because the younger generation does not deserve success, but because of just how undervalued their predecessors are.”
The Artist Comps
There is no better way to crystallize age’s impact on bidding than to pair up the outcomes of specific women artists born on opposite sides of 1975. For starters, consider Mary Heilmann (b. 1940) and Allison Zuckerman (b.1990).
Heilmann’s C.V. stretches to 59 pages, her work has been collected by more than 40 museums, and over the past five and a half years, her auction sales totaled $3.8 million.
Those results put Heilmann just $400,000 ahead of the $3.4 million paid for lots by Zuckerman, who has yet to garner her first major museum solo show.
Other direct comps are just as telling…
- Loie Hollowell (b. 1983) outperformed Pat Steir (b. 1940), by a total of $18.8 million versus $18.3 million.
- Anna Weyant (b. 1995) saw her auction sales reach $5.2 million , putting her within shouting distance of the $5.9 million brought since 2017 by Eva Hesse’s works (some of which are now on view in a Guggenheim solo exhibition).
- Issy Wood (b. 1993) also achieved $5.2 million at auction, easily topping the $4 million paid for works by Susan Rothenberg (now the subject of a mini-survey at MoMA).
- Jamian Juliano-Villani (b. 1987) generated $1.9 million at auction, about twice as much as the $1 million paid for lots by Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), who is fresh off a retrospective at the New Museum.
These close-ups foretell the widescreen view: total sales by women in the ultra-contemporary segment rose more than 800 percent since 2017; for women born between 1930 and 1974, sales rose just 65 percent.
The Bottom Line
Primary-market prices and demand may tell a different story about how buyers value women artists across generations. But private collectors and museums often use auction prices as a benchmark to determine how much they should pay—and whether an artist’s work is worth acquiring at all.
This dynamic puts canonical women artists in a double bind. It isn’t just that their prices may never catch up to those of their male peers. The new data suggests that their prices might forever trail those of their female successors, too (or at least those who endure for the long haul).
Both discrepancies would only perpetuate the industry’s relative disregard for the pivotal women artists born in the mid-20th century. For now, the situation creates a golden opportunity for true connoisseurs and buyers hunting undervalued assets. For everyone else, it just creates a damn shame.
Today’s forthcoming Wet Paint will detail a heated battle between a Miami politician and local residents over the type (and arguably, quality) of public art destined for the grounds outside the Pérez Art Museum, plus Annie’s psychedelic escapades on Coney Island with artist, D.J., and nightlife promoter Spencer Sweeney.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Art Basel tapped Vincenzo de Bellis of the Walker Art Center to oversee its four annual fairs. Marc Spiegler will retain his role as global director and remain on the MCH Group board; the hunt for a new director of the Americas continues. ()
- Crystallized mineral specimens and dinosaur bones stole the show at Masterpiece London this year, which returned after a two-year pandemic hiatus. (Artnet News)
- The organizers of Kiaf Seoul will debut Kiaf Plus, a new fair focused on experimental-media art and NFTs, concurrent with Kiaf and Frieze Seoul this September. (Artnet News)
- Simon de Pury is hosting an auction series of works consigned directly from artists and galleries on his online platform de PURY. The first event takes place August 25 and includes lots by women artists such as Chloe Wise, Genieve Figgis, and Allison Zuckerman. (Artnet News)
- Bonhams will offer a work by the breakout star of the New York spring sales, Ernie Barnes, on September 9. (1993) is estimated to fetch up to $700,000. (Artnet News)
- Gagosian scooped up rising-star painter Jadé Fadojutimi and will feature her work at Frieze London in October. Fadojutimi will continue to work with Galerie Gisela Capitain and Taka Ishii Gallery, but is splitting from London’s Pippy Houldsworth. ()
- Johann König is selling 100 works by artists included in past editions of Documenta via daily drops on his online marketplace, Misa.art, until Documenta 15 ends. (Artnet News)
- Zürich’s Galerie Peter Kilchmann is expanding to Paris, with a new space opening in the Marais in October with a show by Japanese-Swiss artist Leiko Ikemura. ()
- Germany and Nigeria struck a repatriation agreement on several Benin Bronzes. Select others will stay at the Humboldt Forum on long-term loan. (Artnet News)
- Chinati Foundation director Jenny Moore is stepping down following the completion of a master plan to preserve and revamp the contemporary museum. Marella Consolini, its former COO, will serve as interim director while the board seeks a replacement. ()
- Fotografiska has named Sophie Wright as its new executive director in New York. Wright joins the for-profit Swedish photography museum from a role as global cultural director of Magnum Photos. ()
NFTs and More
- China’s state-sponsored blockchain network, BSN, offers NFT creators a workaround to the nation’s bans on crypto assets tied to major foreign blockchains. (Artnet News)
- A new study from Temple University and the University of Chicago identified several key ingredients to a successful NFT drop. (Artnet News)
Stanley Whitney’s Late Break
For proof that the market of septuagenarian abstract painter Stanley Whitney has been climbing fast, all you really need is the recent announcement that he has joined the roster at Gagosian. But the data tells an even richer story about the artist’s late-career spike…
- 2015 marked a turning point for Whitney’s career, when he earned a survey at the Studio Museum in Harlem and representation from Lisson Gallery. Yet only one work by the artist appeared at auction that year, selling for under $13,500.
- That changed by 2018. As Whitney’s primary prices reached the six figures, Phillips sold a painting for $121,291 in its London spring sales. Bolstered by another eight lots that year, his average price under the hammer hit almost $114,000.
- Continuing momentum in 2022 has pushed Whitney’s total auction sales in the first half of the year to $14.7 million—and his average sale price to $474,404. Both figures are more than double his previous annual highs.
Click through for more on Whitney’s most sought-after works, where there is still opportunity to buy, and whether his market boom will survive a wider market recalibration.
“The problem with privatizing the sale of dinosaur remains is that it removes them from the labs of scientific researchers. The issue with selling them in art auctions is that it’s stupid.”
—Kenny Schachter on the $12.4 million sale of “Hector,” allegedly the most complete Velociraptor skeleton known to humankind, during Christie’s marquee evening art auctions in New York in May. (Artnet News Pro)
Work of the Week
Estimate: £10,000 to £15,000 ($12,159 to $18,239)
Sold for: £176,400 ($214,494)
Sold at: Sotheby’s London
Sale Date: June 30
Ten bidders from Europe, Asia, and the U.S. drove this colorful crowd scene by little-known Brussels-based painter Albert Willem to nearly 12X its upper estimate during Sotheby’s Modern and contemporary day sale in London last week. The result isn’t an outlier, either.
Three of Willem’s canvases have crossed the auction block in London since May 2022. All carried identical £15,000 ($18,219) high estimates; all have now sold for at least £100,800 ($126,047) after fees. If you’re wondering why, part of the answer seems to be that escapism sells.
According to the artist’s website, Willem (b. 1979) “intentionally avoids heavy or profound themes.” He never went to art school and has only been painting for about four years, largely taking his inspiration from Instagram. He also recently secured representation from New York gallery Waterhouse and Dodd (which just exhibited at Masterpiece London).
Sotheby’s head of sale Antonia Gardner described Willem’s works as “bright, eccentric, [and] playful,” adding, “They make you smile and undoubtedly carry an energy that emanates from these imagined stories.” It looks like the price of that particular energy is rising fast, too.