These Are the Young Female Artists to WatchBy
Colorful and deft works blend feminist ideas with Surrealism
‘Maybe this is the time of the women,’ says one gallery owner
Loie Hollowell ignited frenzied buying at Frieze London art fair this month.
The 34-year-old, who makes sexually suggestive landscapes reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe, saw her pastels snapped up by collectors in minutes and a wait list for future works double. Prices for her paintings more than tripled since her first solo show two years ago.
Hollowell is part of a hot-artist wave: women in their 30s and 40s using traditional genres such as still life, landscape and portrait in unexpected ways. The intimacy of their paintings is appealing to collectors, following a decade when artworks by many of their successful male counterparts grew bigger and bigger.
Rising demand led to sold-out exhibitions in New York of Surrealist paintings by Julie Curtiss and Emily Mae Smith and auction bidding wars for Shara Hughes’s radiant landscapes in London. While prices for emerging female artists are typically in the thousands, they can skyrocket. The figurative paintings exploring race and gender by Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby won the 34-year-old a $3 million personal auction record in March and, this month, the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award.
“Maybe this is the time of the women,” said Rachel Uffner, whose New York gallery represents Hughes. “They are really good artists. They’ve been working for a while. And they keep making better and better works.”
The focus on women is relatively new in the art world, where men have dominated for decades at auction and in museums. Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” painting, which fetched $44.4 million in 2014, holds the auction record for a female. By comparison, the highest price for any work sold at auction belongs to Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femme d’Alger (Version ‘O’) at $179.4 million in 2015.
But things are starting to change as dealers and curators scour for emerging talent and dig through history for overlooked women. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is preparing the first U.S. museum show by Lebanese artist Etel Adnan, who is 92. The 88-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who draws huge crowds worldwide, opens a show at billionaire Eli Broad’s museum in Los Angeles this weekend.
“Half of humanity is a rather untapped resource,” artist John Currin said at an investment and ideas conference organized by former hedge fund manager Richard Hurowitz this week. “What have we lost in the past 400 years because women didn’t paint?”
Several sought-after artists focus on the female body. Hollowell’s 16 abstract pastels -- an interplay of curves, curls and spheres -- sold in less than 40 minutes at Pace Gallery’s stand during the preview of Frieze art fair in London this month, at $6,500 each. By the end of the day, 40 people added their names to a waiting list, according to Marc Glimcher, the gallery’s president. In her current sold-out show at Pace in Palo Alto, California, standard pieces are going for as much as $30,000, triptychs $45,000.
A long wait list has grown for Hughes’s landscapes since they appeared at the Whitney Biennial this year, with prices for new pieces topping at $25,000, said Uffner, her dealer.
“I tried to buy them a couple of times,” collector Teddy Greenspan said of Hughes’s paintings at auction, where prices rose as high as $68,750 this year. “There were 10 bidders on the phone.”
Sotheby’s and Phillips plan to offer more works by Hughes during their signature sales in New York next month.
A 2015 painting by Jennifer Guidi will debut at Sotheby’s in November, testing the market for the artist whose monochromes and landscapes just sold out at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, with prices ranging from $30,000 to $160,000.
Amid the enthusiasm there are concerns. Memories are fresh about the craze from 2013 to 2015 for process-based abstract paintings made mostly by young, male artists whose prices reached hundreds of thousands of dollars as investors flipped the works repeatedly -- until the bubble burst last year.
Now dealers are carefully vetting prospective buyers. Some require collectors to purchase two works and donate one to a museum, a strategy that weeds out speculators and cements artists’ reputations, according to adviser Candace Worth.
“We hope for the best,” said Jon Lutz, director of 106 Green, an artist-run gallery in Brooklyn, which gave Hollowell her first solo show in New York. “But there’s only so much we can control.”
Among the key shows in New York:
- 106 Green gallery sold all nine paintings by Curtiss before her solo exhibit opened on Oct. 7, Lutz said. The artist’s eerie paintings depict cropped body parts such as legs, hair and nails. Prices ranged from $3,000 to $6,000.
- Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery sold all but one still life by Holly Coulis from a show of 16 works that depict table settings with tea cups, wine bottles and potato chips. Prices for paintings were $6,000 to $18,000.
- Simone Subal Gallery sold all works in its current exhibition by Emily Mae Smith, with prices for paintings at $5,500 to $24,000.