Sotheby’s and Christie’s have now published their London evening sale catalogues. These are the sales where records are broken, careers are forged and destroyed, and fortunes are lost and won. But where are all the female artists? In the Christie’s sale, which will take place on February 11th, there are only six lots on offer by female artists, and two are by the same artist, Tracey Emin. In the Sotheby’s sale, which is scheduled for February 10th, the imbalance is more extreme. There is only one woman artist to be found in the seventy-seven works they have on offer: Germaine Richier’s La Montagne, which has one of the lowest estimates of the sale at £200,000 – 300,000.
In November last year, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1 set the world record for an artwork by a female artist when it sold for $44.4m (£28m) at Sotheby’s in New York. It trails behind the highest price ever achieved for a male artist at auction, however, and is an anomaly in terms of female auction prices. The second highest price fetched for a female artist at auction is $11.9 million, also achieved in 2014.
These poor auction performances – relative to men – do not necessarily reflect the 2015 exhibition schedules of many of the major international museums, however. This year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York the solo exhibition programme is evenly divided between both sexes, and will include shows from Bjork and Yoko Ono. The latter will travel to Guggenheim Bilbao, where, out of their ten solos shows, five will be of female artists, including a large-scale retrospective of Niki de Saint Phalle, who is considered one of the first feminist artists. Here in the UK the Tate program will feature five major solo shows of female artists, including Agnes Martin, Barbara Hepworth, Marlene Dumas and Sonia Delaunay.