Where are the women?
High priced male artists such as Warhol and Picasso dominate the stands
By Lindsay Pollock | From Art Basel Daily Edition

A list of the artists whose work you are most likely to see at this year’s Art Basel, based on the number of galleries who are bringing pieces, is headed—perhaps unsurprisingly—by the prolific Andy Warhol, with works on show at 28 stands. Artists making work in the first half of the 20th century rank highly, including Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso, although the list is also speckled with 1960s conceptualists such as Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner. But the top 40 most represented artists on show at the fair are all men (click to see table).

“I don’t feel that female artists are being penalised, but there is a big male contingent here at the fair,” said New York art adviser Sima Familant. Gagosian’s stand (B7) includes just one female artist amid a sea of men, and she is hardly given star billing, as of last night at least. Yayoi Kusama’s meditative black and white painting is tucked in a side room, while sprawling works by Koons, Prince, De Kooning and Rauschenberg are dramatically splayed across the walls. But Gagosian outdid Paris-based Thaddaeus Ropac (B17) which is showing no female artists at all. Swiss gallery Thomas Ammann (B2) is caked with glittering Warhols. The only female artist on view—and it’s hard to find—is the late minimalist Agnes Martin. Her spare black and white geometric 1961 drawing is priced at $1.6m.

Dealers say that the imbalance can be partly explained by prices. Male artists continue to fetch the biggest sums at galleries and at auction. “Is it true that a Brice Marden drawing is a zillion times more expensive than a comparable work by a woman artist? Yes,” said Barry Rosen, who advises the estates of Eva Hesse and Lee Lozano. A small Van Gogh-inspired 1982 painting by Lee Bontecou, who is of the 1960s generation of artists such as Jasper Johns who command million dollar prices even for lesser examples, is for sale at Marianne Boesky (M3) for $120,000.

The fact that male artists command bigger prices also precludes some collectors from considering works by female artists. “It’s not only because they are women,” said Monika Sprüth of Sprüth Magers, which is showing a number of female artists on their stand (B12). “There are certain kinds of speculators in the art world who pride themselves on price, and this tends to favour certain male artists.”

Several women are edging up in fair representation, but it helps to be dead. The late Louise Bourgeois and Joan Mitchell, both presented by nine galleries apiece, rank highest. A series of 28 Bourgeois watercolours, Les Fleurs, completed three months before her death earlier this year, were sold on Art Basel’s opening day by New York’s Cheim & Read (A9) to a collector who has promised the works to a US museum. The group was priced at $1.4m. The gallery was among the few at the fair with a female majority, featuring work by Pat Steir, Ghada Amer, Joan Mitchell and Lynda Benglis.

Cindy Sherman, who will be the subject of a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2012, is being shown on just three stands. A seminal 1979 piece from her career-making series of “film stills”, portraying Sherman representing different archetypes, was sold during the fair’s opening day by her longtime gallery Metro Pictures (J12) for $1.5m. The work is from an edition of ten.

Other coveted female artists are also in short supply. Julie Mehretu can be seen at four stands—compared with ten stands boasting Jonathan Monk. Elizabeth Peyton’s moody portraits are also scattered around just four out of 303 stands.

Perhaps the dearth of female artists could be considered a compliment. “It could be that whoever buys art by women keeps it,” said Rosen.

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