The Most Expensive Living Female Artists in 2016

These stars reign supreme.

Julie Mehretu, Yayoi Kusama, and Beatriz Milhazes. Courtesy of Getty, YouTube, and Patrick McMullan.

That gender imbalances continue to plague the art world in 2016 is a matter of fact. However, to employ an old adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day—and we’d be remiss to overlook progress when we see it. As the New York Times puts it, women in the arts today are “(finally) getting their turn.”

Among living female artists in particular, a special tier have reached new heights in art-market recognition. The last four years alone saw new names elevated to the top of auctions, which is a small, but formidable group.

Related: 20 Emerging Female Artists To Keep on Your Radar

Out of the top 2000 artworks sold at auction from 1985 onward by living artists, see which women made it in the ever-growing club. 

Cady Noland

Cady Noland, Bluewald (1989).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

1. Cady Noland
Cady Noland, who previously led the pack with her 2011 Sotheby’s sale of Oozewald, reclaimed her seat at the throne with a 2015 sale of Bluewald at Christie’s New York. As the most expensive lot sold by a living female artist to date, Bluewald was snagged in May of 2015 for a cool $9,797,000.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, White No. 28 (1960).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

2. Yayoi Kusama
Not to be outpaced, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who currently ranks as the most expensive living female artist on aggregate, takes a firm second place with the sale of White No. 28 at a 2014 Christie’s New York, which won a handsome $7,109,000.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #30 (1979).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

3. Cindy Sherman
The art world’s queen of disguise Cindy Sherman joins Noland and Kusama in the top three with a 2014 sale of Untitled Film Stills which were produced in the mid to late ’70s. The photos caught the eye of a collector during a Christie’s auction, and the premium paid closes in on $7 million.

Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas, The Visitor (1995).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

4. Marlene Dumas
South African artist Marlene Dumas claims fourth place with a Sotheby’s sale of her 1995 painting The Visitor, which fetched nearly $6.5 million in 2008. For a closer look at Dumas’s work, the artist’s 1994 The Painter is currently on view at the Met Breuer.

Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley, Chant 2 (1967).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

5. Bridget Riley
Optical illusions are Bridget Riley’s specialty, and the most expensive of them all is a 1967 painting titled Chant 2. The English artist saw this canvas sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2008 for a little over $5 million.

Rosemarie Trockel

Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled (in 2 parts) (1985-88).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

6. Rosemarie Trockel
Rosemarie Trockel makes the list with her 1988 Untitled (in 2 parts), which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for close to $5 million. Trockel’s work, which typically tackles arbitrary distinctions between craft and fine art (among other equally gendered differences), serves as much-needed counterweights to Germany’s male-dominated art scene.

Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu, Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation (2001).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

7. Julie Mehretu
Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu has seen several of her canvases sold for high sums at auction, but the highest peak among them belongs to a 2013 sale of her painting Retopistics. That year, the work sold at Christie’s for a little over $4,6 million.

Tracey Emin, <em>My Bed</em> (1998).<br>Photo: Courtesy of Tate.

Tracey Emin, My Bed (1998).
Photo: Courtesy of Tate.

8. Tracey Emin
As an object of art historical and socio-political value, Tracey Emin’s 1998 sculpture installation, My Bed, raked in $4,365,678 in 2014 at Christie’s. The English artist, who recently made headlines for committing to a stone in matrimony, has long-served as a rebel-rouser of the finest variety.

Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville, Plan (1993).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

9. Jenny Saville
When it comes to figurative painting, English painter Jenny Saville comes as quickly to mind as Lucien Freud. It comes as no surprise, then, that Saville settles into the top ten with one of her portraits. Plan, a canvas painted in 1993, took home $3,491,681 at a Christie’s auction in 2014.

Vija Celmins

Vija Celmins, Burning Plane (1965).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

10. Vija Celmins
Vija Celmins’s photo-realistic paintings have won the favor of many a collector. In 2005, the late real estate developer Edward R. Broida donated 17 pieces by the artist to the MoMA that was cumulatively valued at $50 million. Less than a decade later in 2014, Celmins’s Burning Plane took home just under $3.5 million at Sotheby’s.

Chen Xi, 被记忆”系列作品 (Works by memory) (2006-10).Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

Chen Xi, 被记忆”系列作品 (Works by memory) (2006-10).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

11. Chen Xi
According to the artnet Price Database, Chinese artist Chen Xi works have sold at auction in the $50,000 range. But with the 2011 sale of her work 被记忆”系列作品 (Works by memory), Xi takes a seat at our roundup. The piece, which sold at Holly International Auction, took home $3,267,045.


Tauba Auerbach, Untitled (Fold) (2011).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

12. Tauba Auerbach
As the youngest member of our lineup, Tauba Auerbach, who was born in 1981, has already seen a number of her works sold for millions at auction. The highest price paid for her work was transacted at a Phillips auction in 2014 for $2,285,000, which won the collector Untitled (Fold), a painting done in 2010.


Beatriz Milhazes, Meu Limão, (2000).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet.

13. Beatriz Milhazes
Beatriz Milhazes’s playful canvases conjure up brilliant storms of Brazilian cultural imagery and modernist references, and they’ve caught the attention of big collectors in recent years. Her painting, Meu Limão, took home $2,098,500 in a 2012 Sotheby’s auction. Two years later, her painting Palmolive sold at Christie’s for $1,685,000.

Paula Rego, The cadet and his sister , Executed in 1988. Lot sold: £ 1,145,000, Auction record for the artist Photo: courtesy Sotheby's

Paula Rego, The cadet and his sister (1998).
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

14. Paula Rego
2015 was a good year for Portugese artist Paula Rego, who saw two of her paintings, which resemble storybook illustrations, fetch high sums at Sotheby’s auction in June: The cadet and his sister took home nearly $1.8 million while Looking out was claimed at a little over $1.5 million.

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