Artworks by Women Vastly Undersold at Auction

A new survey by online art sales platform Artsy found that works by female artists accounted for just 6 percent of all works sold at auction between 2012 and 2022. The inaugural Women Artists Market Report additionally found that of the five hundred most expensive works sold at auction in the decade-long period, only fifty were by women, and none of those were in the “most expensive” category comprising the costliest top fifty works. The $332 million generated by the sales of the fifty most-expensive works by women artists—among them Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Mary Cassatt, and Frida Kahlo—was less than the $344 milllion total yield of the two most-expensive works by male artists, by Andy Warhol and Georges Seurat. Yayoi Kusama was found to be the best-selling female artist of the past ten years, with sales totaling $762 million; by contrast, sales of works by best-selling male artist Pablo Picasso during the same span raked in $5.2 billion.

Figures for 2022 were slightly brighter for women. The percentage of work sold at auction by female artists rose to 9.3 percent that year; those sales accounted for $1 billion of the total $11 billion auction market. The figure shows a 195 percent increase over 2012 sales of works by women, which amounted to $350.6 million.

Other signs of progress last year included strong representation by so-called ultra-contemporary female artists (those born in 1975 or after), who accounted for 44 percent of works sold. To break it down further, women artists born in 1985 or later created 65 percent of works sold in 2022. Achieving comparatively high sales alongside the young were the dead: Late female artists achieved total sales of $477 million, up 109 percent from the $228 million they reaped in 2012. The two groups were strongly represented among the female artists who set auction records in 2022, with Njideka Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983), Avery Singer (b. 1987) representing the former and Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) the latter.


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