05/21/2012 01:48 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2012

Post-war Artists At Auction: The Price Of Being Female

MUCH fanfare greeted the $388m made by Christie's post-war and contemporary evening sale in New York earlier this month--its highest total ever. Few seemed to notice that the auction was unprecedented in another way: it had ten lots by eight women artists, amounting to a male-to-female ratio of five-to-one. (Sotheby's evening sale offered a more typical display of male-domination with an 11-to-one ratio.) Yet proceeds on all the works by women artists in the Christie's sale tallied up to a mere $17m--less than 5% of the total and not even half the price achieved that night by a single picture of two naked women by Yves Klein. Indeed, depictions of women often command the highest prices, whereas works by them do not.

An analysis of data provided by artnet, however, suggests that the prospects for women are slowly improving. Compare, for example, the top ten most expensive male and female artists. Admittedly $86.9m, the highest price for a work by a post-war male artist (set by "Orange, Red, Yellow" by Mark Rothko) dwarfs the highest price paid for a work made by a woman--$10.7m for Louise Bourgeois's large-scale bronze "Spider". However, of the top-ten men, only two are living, whereas among the top-ten women, five are still working (see chart below).

Read more on The Economist