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Only women artists

May 2009 marked a milestone in the history of contemporary art. That year, over the course of eight months, an exhibition took place at the Centre Pompidou which was the largest ever staged to showcase the work of women artists from the 20th century. All works were taken from the permanent collections. A wrong needed to be redressed: the absence of female figures from the official roll call of modern and contemporary artistic creation.

Camille Morineau

“An update for the history of 20th-century art,” commented the curator of the show at the time, Camille Morineau. Since then things have greatly evolved. For the past 10 years Camille Morineau has been running AWARE (Archive of Women Artists), an association that she founded and which freely distributes verified information on 1100 women artists.

The importance of  the data

Judy Chicago

Starting from the following premise: “the more informations we have on an artist the more sought-after they become and their value goes up. Take the very high-value names like Roy Lichtenstein or Gerhard Richter. I noticed that their success correlated to the fact that they had their catalogue raisonné written very early on,” explains the art historian.

The revenge of women artists

Lee Lozano

These days there are many museums around the world exhibiting and showcasing women artists. It’s even become a major trend. Right now in Paris, for example, a small selection of the current exhibition programme includes photographer Julia Margaret Cameron at the Jeu de Paume and sculptor Chana Orloff at the Musée Zadkine. At the Musée Picasso the visual artist Sophie Calle has relegated the Malaga painter to the basement to take over the rest of the floors of the institution. At the Bourse de Commerce an American contemporary artist, Lee Lozano, is being exhibited until 22 January.

Judy Chicago in New York and London

It was also in Paris, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, where one of the stars of the current art market was displayed until 27 February 2023, Joan Mitchell. And that’s not counting the international examples, like in New York where the very high-profile New Museum is exhibiting another contemporary artist particularly concerned with the status of women artists: Judy Chicago. Her work will be on show this spring at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

1.3 billion dollars

Judy Chicago

As for the art market, its reception for these female talents has been more nuanced. According to the Artprice database, in the year 2000 total sales for women artists around the world came to 89.9 million dollars. In 2023 it will have been subject to spectacular growth, reaching the equivalent of 1.3 billion dollars. But as we shall see, it’s not enough to be showcased in exhibitions to be an art market star.

Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) is in second place in the Artprice ranking of women whose works make up the largest sales in 2023 (after Yayoi Kusama), with 56 transactions at auction corresponding to 112 million dollars. Her double exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (a retrospective plus a dialogue with Claude Monet. See the report here) highlighted her uniqueness.

The importance of Claude Monet

Completely embedded in the American school of abstract expressionism, she was no less inspired by the landscapes of the avant-garde impressionist Claude Monet, to the extent that she went to live in Vétheuil, not far from Giverny, from 1967 and stayed there until her death. In 2023 she was the twelfth best-selling artist including men and women.

29.1 million dollars

Joan Mitchell

The high points of her market standing surfaced in November 2023 when the market more generally was even showing signs of slowing down. On 9 November Christie’s sold a canvas of hers from 1959 composed of large colourful brushstrokes for 29.1 million dollars. It remains the artist’s record price to this day. On 15 November Sotheby’s sold a later diptych with a floral appearance measuring 4 metres long for 27.9 million.

Greatest rises in value

Joan Mitchell

Up until around 2015 the highest prices for Mitchell barely reached 10 million dollars. According to Camille Morineau Mitchell’s market value really took off with the Elles@CentrePompidou exhibition. There’s no doubt that the Fondation Vuitton show has confirmed the great character of the painter’s oeuvre. Mitchell, with her beautiful and explosively colourful abstractions, today embodies one of the greatest rises in value in the current contemporary art market.

Lee Lozano

Lee Lozano

Lee Lozano (1930-1999) is a fascinating American artist who moved from figurative work to an equally powerful abstract oeuvre across only twelve years of her career. She has been the subject of a retrospective in Turin at the Pinacoteca Agnelli, which travelled to the Bourse de Commerce where it is on show until 22 January. Her work is visually powerful and yet for the time being American institutions do not seem to be interested in a retrospective.

Sarah Cosulich and Lucrezia Calabro Visconti

The curators of the  European exhibition, Sarah Cosulich and Lucrezia Calabro Visconti, see her work as satirical. “She creates in reaction to the artistic system. She is making a critical commentary on society. She is a utopian anarchist.” In 1971 the unusual Lozano decided to no longer speak to women – a subject that prompted many commentaries – and a year later she halted all artistic production. Her body of work is therefore limited.

François Pinault owns 14 works

Lee Lozano

The collector and owner of the Bourse de Commerce, François Pinault, has fourteen of her works exhibited there. The market for the American artist has a major asset: she is represented by the multinational Hauser&Wirth gallery. We noted, for example, during the Paris+ fair in 2023 one of her paintings at their booth sold for 450,000 euros. But the offering for Lozano’s works is slim. In 2023 only two drawings were sold at auction for 56,000 and 46,000 euros respectively. In addition to the very large formats, the poor state of conservation of a certain number of pieces are, according to specialists, further obstacles to increasing her market value. Which goes to show that her market still requires consolidation.

Judy Chicago

If there is an artist who has long been sacrificed on the altar of femininity, it would be Judy Chicago (born in 1939). She is one of the very recently rediscovered talents who had a career that started in the 1960s. In 2018, around the time of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Miami staged her first major retrospective. I interviewed her back then.

3 floors at the New Museum

This time she is receiving the honours in New York until 3 March 2024 in a very convincing exhibition occupying three floors of the New Museum. Since the 1970s she has been an artist who has moved from making abstract pieces with psychedelic tendencies in remarkable pastel colours to more figurative work, using her art to champion the feminist cause.

Art has no gender but…

Judy Chicago

She likes to say: “art has no gender but artists do.” In her show there is an entire floor dedicated to women artists across history. Her presence at auction is still almost non-existent. Her record price reached a mere 61,000 dollars in 2022. In 2023 only two lithographs were presented at auction. With her dealers it’s a different story.

An advise by Anais Nin

Judy Chicago

In New York Fabienne Stephan, who works for his New York gallery Salon 94, observes: “One of her historic paintings from the 1960s recently sold for around 2 million dollars. In 2022 she also created some bronze goddesses (which look like they’ve been inspired by prehistoric Venuses: editor’s note) on sale for 250,000 dollars. Judy is an artist in a league of her own. It was Anais Nin who told her she should write a memoir. Which she did. Her work takes numerous forms and she manages her activities like a small company,” concludes Fabienne Stephan.

In the future it’ll only take a single exceptional piece by Judy Chicago at auction to stabilize the international standing of this artist with an established reputation.

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