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You’ll be shocked by the percentage of women artists in top art auctions

Women are entirely absent from the top strata of art sales, where 42 male artists enjoy 40% of sale values.

You’ll be shocked by the percentage of women artists in top art auctions
The painting Edrita Fried 1981 by Joan Mitchell hangs in the exhibition Joan Mitchell. Retrospective. Her Life and Paintings. [Photo: Henning Kaiser/Picture Alliance via Getty Images]
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Four! This is the percentage of art sold at major art auctions worldwide that was created by women.

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A team of researchers from the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States studied over 2.6 million artworks sold at auction from 2000-2017 at 1,800 top auction houses, and found that women are entirely absent from the top strata of art sales, where 42 male artists enjoy 40% of sale values. Just one female artist, Joan Mitchell, cracks the top 50.

These numbers are particularly damning given that roughly even numbers of men and women pursue degrees in fine arts.

The study found other dismaying statistics:

  • Women’s artwork makes up 3-5% of major permanent art collections in the U.S. and Europe.
  • In sales over $1 million, male artwork sells for 18% more than female artwork.
  • 5% of the 116,000 artists with work on display at major galleries and up for auction are female. Of those making contemporary art, 9.3% are female, while 2.9% of “old masters” are female artists.

The lone bright spot is that when women’s artwork is auctioned, it is priced 4.4% higher than similar artwork by male counterparts. “The fact that the auction prices are higher for artwork by women than artwork by men, after accounting for artwork style and other characteristics that affect prices, shows that women can compete in the market when given the chance,” says coauthor Marina Gertsberg, a lecturer in banking and finance at Monash Business School in Australia. This indicates “that buyers perceive quality of artworks by female artists as overall better than the artworks of male artists.”

Unfortunately, the boost does not apply to contemporary art, where men’s art sells for 8.3% more. No word on women’s participation and pricing in the roiling world of NFTs and digital art, where a digital piece by the artist Beeple (whose daily art you should follow on Twitter) sold for $69 million last week at Christie’s, smashing the previous record for digital art.