Yayoi Kusama shines as female artists leave a mark in auctions


Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama takes in first place in Hiscox's annual ranking of the best-selling contemporary artists of 2023, thanks to the US$80.9mil generated by the auction of her works. Photo: AFP

Long reduced to the role of muse or model, women's status in the art world is changing. Their works are increasingly valued, so much so that women have risen up the ranks of Hiscox's list of best-selling contemporary artists for 2023.

After years of phenomenal growth, contemporary art is following the downward trend of the rest of the market. But women artists have managed to hold their own in this global context of declining contemporary art sales, and Yayoi Kusama in particular.

The Japanese artist takes in first place in Hiscox's annual ranking* of the best-selling contemporary artists of 2023, thanks to the US$80.9mil generated by the auction of her works.

This is well ahead of David Hockney, who ranks second with US$50.3mil. In third place is another Japanese artist, Yoshitomo Nara. His works, depicting little girls with deceptively cute "kawaii" looks, generating US$36mil in the contemporary art market.

Cecily Brown comes fourth in the Top 100, thanks to the US$31.7mil sale of her figurative abstractions at auction.

Greater visibility

Overall, 30 women feature in the ranking of best-selling contemporary artists for 2023, compared to 33 in 2022. Nevertheless, their presence at auction has risen sharply over the past 12 months, attesting to collectors' and curators' appetite for their works of art.

"Contemporary female artists have always been undervalued and underrepresented. Meaningful progress has been made in recent years, as the market gradually begins to recognise the importance and value of their work, but we are still some way from parity," said Robert Read, Head of Art and Private Clients at Hiscox, in a statement.

Aside from Yayoi Kusama and Cecily Brown, other female artists have become extremely coveted in 2023. Take Julie Mehretu, for example. This Ethiopian artist, living in the United States, jumped from 22nd place in the Hiscox list to 6th place in one year. She also broke the record for the highest sale price at auction for the work of an African-born artist last November, with Walkers With The Dawn And Morning. At the time, this 2008 canvas sold for US$10.7mil at Sotheby's in New York.

After centuries of ostracisation and invisibility, there's every reason to believe that women have a promising future in the art market - both in auction rooms and in museum galleries. Indeed, 2024 will see the opening of numerous exhibitions devoted to renowned women artists, including Yoko Ono at Tate Modern (London), Camille Claudel at the Getty Center (Los Angeles) and Harriet Backer at Musée d'Orsay (Paris). Only time will tell if this will increase the value of their work at auction.

* The ranking of the 100 best-selling contemporary artists in 2023 was conducted by ArtTactic, on behalf of Hiscox. It is based on works of art produced after 2000, sold at auction at Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips between 2019 and 2023. - AFP

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