December 30, 2010 6:20 pm

Women artists outperform the men

 
'Trees' by Joan Mitchell

‘Trees’, by American abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell

For many years, art made by women has occupied second place in the public mind.

Many people are hard put even to name more than a handful of successful women artists, and those we know are often cherished for their associations with their male counterparts.

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Gwen John is as well known for being Augustus John’s sister and Rodin’s lover as for her own work; Frida Kahlo derives much of her fame from her partnership with Diego Rivera. And a famous story about Lee Krasner, the abstract expressionist painter married to Jackson Pollock and perpetually in his shadow, has it that her teacher, the renowned critic Hans Hofmann, once said of her work: “This is so good you would not know it was painted by a woman.”

This low prestige has been reflected in the prices that women artists’ work can command. The work of Berthe Morisot, for instance, has never come close to the level of prices that middle-ranking male Impressionists regularly fetch. Although the creations of American abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell are rapidly becoming much more valuable, her paintings still only cost a fraction of those of her famous male counterparts.

Until 2000, despite the fact that the 20th century could boast an extraordinary roster of female talent, there were only a handful of female artists whose work had ever reached the $1m mark. To this day, there is a huge discrepancy between the average price levels – the central 80 per cent of Women’s Art 100 Index compiled by Art Market Research stands at only $43,000 compared with $118,000 for the men.

This is one of the fascinating facts revealed by new data compiled by AMR. The Women’s Art 100 Index uses a representative group of 100 women artists, ranging from Angelika Kauffmann in the 18th century to contemporary stars such as Tracey Emin.

What it also reveals, when prices are tracked over 25 years, is that women artists are now going up in price much faster than their male equivalents: the Women’s Art 100 began to outperform the largely male Art 100 Index in 2000, and the compound growth rate for the Women’s Art 100 is running 4 points higher, at 11.6 per cent.

The index shows that this improved performance has been maintained over the last decade, with the highs and lows of the market during that time largely mirrored between the two groups. Clever collectors have spotted that women artists still present excellent value for money, and this year’s high prices for such names as Marlene Dumas and Alice Neel, or photographer Cindy Sherman, show a strong continuing trend.

View the AMR Women’s Art 100 Index at www.ft.com/arts-extra

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