Within the sorry news of last week’s contemporary auction results is reason for hope and opportunity: the stellar performance of female artists. Perhaps because the women, with the exception of Jenny Saville and, arguably, Marlene Dumas, were never subject to the market manipulations, guarantees, fixed deals and hocus-pocus of manly males like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, their work stands to become a harbinger of selectivity and taste.
The auction record for a shimmering 1958 Yayoi Kusama confirms that women artists, having escaped the branding obsessions of male chauvinist collectors and dealers, will have their works jumpstarted in a down market by the old verities of taste and innovation. During the past week, for example, Louise Bourgeois held strong in the $3 million vicinity, a gorgeous Joan Mitchell painting attracted heated interest, and Cecily Brown, whose ribald hymns may happily replace Hirst's descants of death, also performed well.
Assured of what are now rubber checks from leviathan oligarchs and sheiks to finance their lavish expense accounts, auction Pooh-Bahs got awfully lazy in stocking their evening sales of contemporary with ever lowering gradations of work by the usual male suspects. They need to don the hats of imagination again and one way to do it would be to make the spring evening sales an all-female affair, with lots by DeFeo, Essenhigh, Freilicher, Gaskell, Heilmann, Horn, Kahlo, Kass, Krasner, Mehretu, Murphy, Peyton, Ruyter, Saar, Schneemann, Simpson, Walker, Yuskavage, and all those mentioned above.
The lower price points mandated by the ever-sinking economy will make selecting the very best of these artists for auction also an occasion to finally bring in a new class of bidders to an auction process now made democratic and transparent by necessity.
The publicity of such a "radical" departure from the troglodyte darkness of the past should do the auction houses a world of good to their image and their coffers, so let the planning for such a herstoric event, and the subsequent joyful bidding, begin!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).