Hot List: Watch Out for the Women
If 2022’s auctions are any guide, demand for female artists is only getting stronger
When we ran the data for 2023 Hot List, it became immediately clear that auction buyers are bidding aggressively for the work of female artists. The strong cultural impetus to acquire work that is representative of the whole of society doesn’t need to be explained here. In museums and galleries, great strides are being made if not to redress past omissions—how could one in a few short years or even decades redress centuries of bias?—then to focus on the work of women artists who represent a wide range of styles from both contemporary and historical figures.
Despite the demand, there’s still plenty of room to grow into equity. LiveArt calculated the hammer ratios (the aggregate hammer prices divided by the aggregate low estimates) for all artists auctioned in 2022. We eliminated artists with fewer than 10 auctioned lots. That revealed 267 artists whose hammer ratios showed aggressive bidding above the estimates. Then we ranked those artists by hammer ratio to get an imperfect measure of demand.
Using that criteria, there were still only 12 women among the top 30 auction artists. Just to reflect the population, that number ought to be closer to 16. Representation would mean 138 of the 267 artists, or 52%, were women. We found a figure closer to 22% among our sample.
Nevertheless, it is worth looking at the female artists who did make the list. Little known but much followed by a group of active art traders, Ulala Imai sits on top. With only three-quarters of a million dollars in auction sales, Imai remains a blip on the market’s radar screen. But with a 6.5 hammer ratio, that blip is getting bigger and is likely to appear much larger in coming months. Her depictions of buttered toast and crowded still lives of stuffed animals and pop culture toys have sold for as much as $153,000. This year already, there was an auction sale in Asia of $77,076 for a smaller painting depicting a cutting board covered in fruit and a Chewbacca mask.
No one monitoring the Contemporary art market needs an introduction to Flora Yukhnovich. A phenomenon beginning in late 2021, her auction sales have continued through 2022. More than $14.7 million in works by Yukhnovich were auctioned last year with a 6.02 hammer ratio and an average price of $819,613. Those averages don’t reflect typical prices for Yukhnovich’s work. Her large paintings—which are well-managed by her primary dealer Victoria Miro—sell for prices ranging from $1.8 to $3.6 million. Eventually estimates will be forced to reflect these well-known prices and Yukhnovich’s hammer ratio will come back into line.
Prior to 2022, Ann Craven had not seen a work sell at auction for more than $94,500. Her moonlight paintings, bird and animal studies had already begun building momentum on the auction market in late 2021. But the sale of Doris and Thomas Ammann’s collection supercharged everything. In May, the 2003 painting of three birds, I Wasn’t Sorry made an out-of-register $680,400. For the remainder of the year, the market was on the lookout for another price that might remotely confirm the Ammann sale as a new valuation level. In October, that sale happened when Stepping Out with Cherries from 2011 made $265,749. That number won’t quiet skepticism about the depth of demand for Craven. Nevertheless, $1.4 million worth of Craven’s work sold at auction in 2022 with a hammer ratio of 4.22 and an average price of $130,000. That’s still significant progress over the previous year.
The Scottish ceramicist Jennifer Lee saw auction sales totaling $732,462. She is representative of a number of ceramicists whose work has begun to sell significantly at all three major auction houses. All of Lee’s top ten prices were achieved last year which helped set her hammer ratio at 4.14.
The vogue for all things Surrealist has brought a revival of interest in the work of Eileen Agar. Four of her top five prices were made during 2022 which helped her rack up sales of $509,388 with a hammer ratio of 3.83 and an average price of $46,308. Her top price is now $111,465 exceeding the previous record of just short of $100,000 established in 2018.
Just 30 years old, Lauren Quin had a breakout year as predicted a year ago on LiveArt. By the end of 2022, more than $3.2 million of Quin’s work had sold at auction with an average price of $248,091 and a hammer ratio of 3.71. The market dynamics were established early with a record price set in March at $590.791 and a close confirmation price of $529,200 achieved a few months later in the highly visible New York sales. More important for the future, selling prices were still strong in Hong Kong toward the end of the year when another work made $417,332.
Perhaps the most talked about artist to emerge in 2022 was Anna Weyant. Her old-master inflected realist style has captivated almost as much interest as her personal life. But the $9.6 million auction sales in 2022 are more than just gossip. An average price of $510,331 and a hammer ratio of 3.69 reflect the still strong demand. Many artists will establish themselves at auction with a single strong price beneath which other works will trade over time. Weyant’s market has been remarkable for the fact that three different works sold in the Spring and the Fall in New York for nearly identical $1.5 million prices (though two were likely sold to third-party guarantors.) Different subject matter among Weyant’s work have begun to also find consistent price points like the buffet paintings that gravitated to the mid- to high-six figure range. Those prices suggest a depth of demand even for an artist with a small output so far.
The Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayon lived a short life with a remarkably successful career that included two appearances in the Venice Biennale, the first when she was in her mid-twenties and the second last year, twenty-plus years after her suicide. The work she left behind, often in black and white, had a market explosion in 2022. A total of $895,230 was sold for an average price of $68,864 and a hammer ratio of 3.57.
Lynne Drexler saw $13 million of her art sell at auction in 2022 for an average value of $433,603 and 3.34 hammer ratio. Those numbers hardly describe the dramatic story of Drexler’s rise to visibility last year. A lifelong painter who had experienced modest success in the early 1960s in New York, she had retreated to Maine where she continued to work until her death at the end of the 20th Century. A measured process of museum shows, gallery representation of Drexler’s estate and the deaccessioning of high quality work in 2022 created the conditions for a market lift-off which was capped by combined shows of the artist’s work at two prominent New York galleries, Mnuchin and Berry-Campbell.
These are the top 9 women artists whose work was the subject of the most aggressive bidding during 2022. Demand will continue in some cases; it will subside in others. Some of these artists and others that have similar markets will continue to see strong sales even as the hammer ratios come back into line. There’s only so long auctioneers can keep estimates at an artificially low level. For others, the buyers will be satisfied and their markets will cool down. Before we leave the subject there are a couple of other artists whose markets deserve mention.
For example, the Scottish artist Caroline Walker saw an extraordinary 33 works sell at auction in 2022. The hammer ratio was a strong 3.18 but the dollar volume was nearly $5.5 million giving her an average price of $165,741. Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most famous artists in the world. Nearly a decade ago, one of her works achieved the highest auction price for a female artist. And yet, there was still dynamic bidding for O’Keeffe’s work in 2022’s auctions. Ten works with a cumulative value of $62 million were sold at a 2.8 hammer ratio. Maria Berrio saw 14 works sell for a total of $13.2 million at a 2.48 hammer ratio and an average price of $945,297.
These are only a few of the dozens of market stories that played out in 2022. This year, the names might change but there will surely be many more markets for women artists to talk about.
**Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Indonesian artist Fika Leon as a woman.