Investing in Female Artists Pt. 1 –

Investing in Female Artists Pt. 1 –

femaleAs a consultant and adviser to art investors I am often required to take on the role of a sort of art market futurist and make predictions regarding future trends and identify the artists/movements/genres etc. that have the greatest investment potential. There is one prediction that I have made that I would like to share with everyone because it relates to a particularly important and relevant issue that has been the subject of much debate over the last few years. It is no secret that the work of female artists sell for much less than their male counterparts and it is no secret that one of the reasons for this is the lack of recognition of the achievements of female artists by the cultural sector (scholars, museums, public galleries etc.). Interest in the work of female artists is, however, on the increase as the cultural sector begins to recognise the work of female artists from as early as the 16th century. I believe that the work of female artists is seriously under-rated and under-valued and that the value of the work of histories finest female artists will continue to rise in value in conjunction with the increased pressure put on the cultural sector to give female artists the attention and recognition they deserve.

Jerry Saltz recently re-ignited the debate over the status of female artists in relation to their male counterparts when he posted the details on his facebook profile of a meeting he had with a MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture regarding the lack of works by women artists displayed at the MoMA. This was not the first time that Saltz had weighed in on the recognition of female artists debate. In 2007, Saltz wrote an article for the New York Magazine called ‘Where Are All the Women: On MoMA’s Identify Politics’ in which he criticised the MoMA for what he described as the exclusion of “women from the display of its permanent collection of painting and sculpture from 1879 to 1969”. Saltz’s facebook post suggests that not much has changed since the article he wrote more than 18 months ago.

In July 2008 an article by Andrew Johnson appeared in the English newspaper The Independent titled ‘There’s never been a great woman artist’ which looks at the dollar value put on the work of female artists compared to the work of their male counterparts. Johnson’s article provides two different points of view relating to the price discrepancy between male and female artists. The first point of view is that the art market is sexist and that female artists are not given the recognition they deserve compared to their male counterparts. Art critic Brian Sewell provides the alternative point of view which is that there has never been a first-rank women artist, only second and third rank. I personally find Sewell’s point of view completely ridiculous and totally unjustified. It may seem that there have never been any first-rank women artists but that is only because the art market and the cultural sector are sexist. Those women artists who are worthy of being considered “first-rank” have not been given the recognition and attention that would elevate them to the status of “first rank”.

Do you believe that there has been a “first rank” female artist?

To be continued……..

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

29 Responses

  1. I believe I am the one!

    female storytelling fine art photographer.

  2. Barbara Hepworth.

  3. As a woman art dealer, I am uplifted to see this issue of work by women artists not commanding enough in comparison to their male counterparts. This is an uphill battle that will take many years to overcome, however the more the situation is recognised, the increase in likelihood that it will indeed change in time.

    And there are definitely, without any doubt, numerous’ first-rank’ women artists, along with the men. My respect for Brian Sewell’s art criticism aside, it is absurd to think that not a single woman artist in all of history had been good enough to be classified as such! However it is also highly likely that the majority of such remarkably talented women artists have gone totally unknown. They were likely better known as wives and mothers, as these are the roles that society (to this day) practically forces upon women. If it is still so trying in the 21st Century, imagine how it must have been for women artists several hundred years ago.

    So, who are those first-rate artists?

    Let the discussion begin.

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  5. What about Georgia O’Keefe?

    Here’s an artist who has been very influential and definitely has significance in American art. She even has a Museum named after her in Santa Fe.

    I think she probably ranks up there with her male peers.

  6. Thanks for bringing the issue to the surface. I have seen many very good female artists that deserve a bigger place. It seems to me now, that more women are taking the selves and their art more serious – and then again they will be taken more serious in the market.

  7. Louise Bourgeoise

    • I agree. Louise Bourgeois (and Artemisia Gentileschi and Camille Claudel and so many others, history’s long…). I also like Sophie Calle. She never bores me!

      And then what’ s ‘first rank’? Immanently patriarchal bogus term? It’s just that women tend to work more, which leaves them less time for posing…

      Interesting book concerning the role of female artists: Germaine Greer; The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work

  8. Dana Schutz

  9. Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keefe, Shirazeh Houshiary, Eva Hesse, Rebecca Horn, Cindy Sherman, Gwen John, Maggi Hambling, Bridget Riley, Madalena Abakanowicsz, Annie Leibovitz, Vigy Le Brun…plenty more from Rennaissance onwards but their names have been glossed over in history so I’d have to look them up in ‘The Obstacle Race’ by Germaine Greer…which is about women artists throughout history.
    To name but a few.

  10. …and then I remembered: Dame Barbara Hepworth, Dame Elizabeth Frink, Leonora carrington, & Frida Kahlo.

  11. hi,
    i really don’t like the idea of first, second and third rank in art in the first place, regardless of the sex! the whole ‘elitist’ attitude toward art is what drives wedges between artists, and stops people looking at art without prejudice and creates catergorisation; which i try and avoid as an artist! i believe it damages the way people perceive and view art in general. As a female artist i would hope the world has changed enough to embrace my work based on its own merit. i feel i have successfully achieved my goal if the viewer simply ‘feels something’ when looking at my work without knowing who i am….

  12. Great blogging guys. When you get a chance, google Anne Magill and take a look at some of her work. She’s a brilliant British artist.

  13. Your post was just forwarded to Jerry by way of facebook on which page I hav been a constant follower of this discussion. Thanks for taking up the conflict in a positive and knowledgeable manner. At the ART SALON we aspire to channeling Gertrude Stein and supporting all emerging art.

  14. Sorry…I forgot to post it…Art Salon @http//

  15. artemesia gentileschi

  16. I follow I.Young, and agree in what she is writing. But perhaps that is a bit of the problem. We are satisfied if just anybody apriciates our work – we are not so economic oriented when it comes to art. Men is satisfied with far less . Men demands to be seen and heard. – and often they will. So perhaps that is the way to go???

  17. start with the Bayeux Tapestry and then not in chronological order!!!

    Nan Goldin
    Louise Bourgeois
    Camille Claudel
    Tamara de Lempicka
    Dorothea Lange.
    Georgia O’Keeffe,
    Diane Arbus,
    Frida Kahlo,
    Tracey Emin,
    Annie Leibovitz

  18. There is no question that there are many good to brilliant women artists, and hopefully the new breed of women curators and art gallerists will revisit their permanent collections, represent women from the past and more emerging, and evaluate the art of women to be shown their place in art history for educational studies and role modeling for all women art students. I was at an art opening reception for an artist in her early 90’s, an abstract painter, who was doing work at the same time as all the “guys” of the NY School, and was never known by anyone significant. The exhibition was fabulous and I was shocked at the fine quality of the paintings. Firstly they looked as if they were painted yesterday, but were from the late 40’s early 50’s. Oh, they sold alright!

  19. Great to see this debate. At one point in time I’ve considered “hiding” my sex because I understood the stamp of “female” artist. I would prefer to be called only an Artist. There is no denying the discrimination at all levels of society but there is also a clear improvement.
    As far great Portuguese artists I name Paula Rego and Vieira da Silva just for starters!

  20. I appreciate the discussion on female artists being undervalued world-wide, and I would also like to add a note that pertains specifically to China (and also a THANK YOU to Nicholas Forrest for raising this timely issue!). Female artists in China have been underrated due in part to issues that are unique to China’s social, political, and economic circumstances during the last thirty years. As China opened to the West in the late 1970s, artists began creating work that was increasingly anti-authoritarian in terms of both content and style. These works were received with varying levels of political tolerance, and as the economic value of the work increased when the international market took notice, that tolerance increased as well. The artists leading these campaigns in the 1980s were almost entirely male. Their ironic, anti-regime, style appealed to the international market and led the way for the great success that artists such as Zhang Xiaogang have enjoyed in recent years.
    Female artists during the eighties and nineties were developing a very different style that was informed by, and reacting against, the long-standing practice of fostering “liberation” of women for political gain and international PR purposes. During the Cultural Revolution, such campaigns elevated women to the position of “holding up half the sky” in a manner that stripped them of traditional representations of femininity. As their male peers rebelled against the state using popular, political, and commercial images, modern female artists in the late twentieth century found their rebellion in forming a uniquely female visual language. Either for reasons of aesthetics, or of cross-cultural miscommunication, these works did not fare as well on the international market. (Though are a very few, such as Lin Tianmiao, who have found rather great success internationally.)
    The present generation of up and coming artists, born around or after 1975, grew up with different pressures and ideals regarding gender; and this is represented in their work that often takes on similar social issues to those found in the work of young male artists. To be sure, these issues are still interpreted from a female perspective, but the language is one that I think resonates more purely with international consumers. It is not so much that there has or has not been a “first rank” female artist. It is that attention and (increasingly I suspect) auction prices are starting to reflect the true talent of these women. As younger artists, such as Cao Fei draw attention to the talent of female artists, the work of her predecessors, contemporaries, and successors may more easily become visible.
    Thank you, again, Nicholas, for highlighting the issue!
    I have a fairly new blog discussing exhibit news and profiles of contemporary female artists from China that I hope will serve as an advocacy forum to increase international knowledge of China’s female artists. As a student, I don’t claim to be any sort of authority, but I enjoy the topic and would love lively discussion online at

  21. I agree on some levels with the statements made however there are so many cases that don’t fit in with the arguement…. to name a couple…
    I have just got back from the Venice Biennale where women have had, for the last two years at least, fantastic representation, both in the main sites and in the pavillions.
    Nicholas Serota could have chosen any artist to fill the Turbine Hall on the opening of the Tate modern in 2000, and he chose Louise Bourgeois.

  22. Or, to quote a Jenny Holzer Lithograph from ‘Inflammatory Essays’ (1979-82) Tate Gallery:

    “Don’t talk down to me. Don’t be polite to me. Don’t try to make me feel nice. Don’t relax. I’ll cut the smile off your face. You think I don’t know what’s going on. You think I’m afraid to react. The joke’s on you. I’m biding my time, looking for the spot. You think no-one can reach you, no-one can have what you have. I’ve been planning while you’re playing. I’ve been saving while you’re spending. The game is almost over so it’s time you acknowledge me. Do you want to fall not ever knowing who took you?”

  23. Thank you, Nicolas, for your article. Believe me, this is not a new issue. I strongly recommend you do some more reading which should cheer you up. The Pink Glass Swan by Lucy Lippard is a fascinating tome devoted to this issue… The Guerilla Girls have collected some fascinating statistics and their actions have changed the gender face of the art world. Linda Nochlin has written a plethora of books on gender issues in art as well.

    artchick1: why don’t you give the name of the woman artist in her 90’s??? Perhaps you mean Agnes Martin, who is certainly a genius? This is a good example of the kind of thing women are up against, even among their fellow women artists! Not much name recognition, less media exposure, aside from the usual barriers. And if you’re planning on selling in an auction, don’t let anyone know you’re a woman unless you’re Nan Goldin…

    Recently the Centre George Pompidou Center in Paris, France opened an entire floor of their Modern Art Museum to women artists. It’s a pretty impressive line-up… but what a lot of controversy surrounding this endeavour! Interestingly, most of the pieces had never been shown there before.

    Also please let’s say women and men artists and not female and male. We are not animals, much as I love and respect our animal brothers and sisters!

  24. Joan Mitchell

  25. The man receives the compliments for the woman’s work, behind the stage. The mind is much more evaluated than the heart. Mary made the labour, but Jesus is praised.
    It was, it is and will be like that.
    This is an esoteric truth and we need not fight it.
    The real art is to create your higher self and be in the moment.
    The art is the oxygen that carries the Prana.
    All the great masters (Fra Angelico, William Blake, Goethe, Leonardo, Rembrandt, , Bach, Vivaldi, Rilke, Shakespeare and others) were concious beings with a heart of a woman or a man -supporting them.

  26. This is 2009. Time IS changing. Just look at Hilary she WAS the woman behind. BUT see what is happening. He is now supporting HER. This is happening in many ways today. Some men are more MEN, they are masculin enouhgh to let women be side by side. Not threatendby them but treaten them as equals. In this case I will say ARTISTS – that should be more innovative that others are actually falling behind. And that is the question. Why in art?

  27. hey amber i found u..was reminded of you so i did a search

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