The Top 10 Most Expensive Living Female Artists

The results may surprise you.

Yayoi Kusama. Photo via: Jamille Sodré
Tauba Auerbach Photo via: Aires Bien Chéveres.

Tauba Auerbach.
Photo via: Aires Bien Chéveres.


It is beyond a doubt that female artists have had a strong year, both in the studio and at auction.

Compared to our look over the past ten years, 2015 brings some new faces into the mix, as conceptual wunderkind Tauba Auerbach joins painters Paula Rego and Beatriz Milhazes on the hallowed list of heavy hitters at auction. Using data drawn from the artnet Price Database, it appears that Cady Noland maintains the top spot with her sale of Bluewald (1989) in May, and Yayoi Kusama‘s NO. RED B (1960) sale keeps her solidly in second place.

With its mix of painting, sculpture, photography, and installation, our list below shows a very talented pool of eclectic, and expensive, works by living female artists.


Cady Noland, Bluewald (1989).Photo: Courtesy of the Southbank Centre.

Cady Noland, Bluewald (1989).
Photo: Courtesy of the Southbank Centre.

1. Cady Noland
Bluewald (1989) sold at Christie’s New York in May for close to $9.8 million—a record for the American artist. She also made headlines this summer for disowning a large-scale artwork.

Yayoi Kusama No. Red B sold for $7 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong. Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Yayoi Kusama NO. RED B (1960).
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

2. Yayoi Kusama
The World’s Most Popular Artist has had stellar years at auction recently. At an October sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, NO. RED B (1960) sold for $7 million. Kusama’s Instagram-friendly exhibitions have also helped make her the most popular artist in the world.


Julie Mehretu, Looking Back to a Bright New Future (2003).
Image: Courtesy of The Modern Art Notes Podcast.

3. Julie Mehretu
Looking Back to a Bright New Future (2003) sold for close to $3.5 million at Christie’s London in June. This was a good year at auction for the American painter, with Untitled (2001) selling for $2.3 million at Christie’s New York and Invisible Sun (algorithm 2) (2013) selling for almost $1.4 million at Phillips London.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #48 (1979).Image: Courtesy of Christie's.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #48 (1979).
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

4. Cindy Sherman
A May sale at Christie’s New York saw one of Sherman’s iconic film stills bought for close to $3 million. The photographer is also known to flirt with acting; this year, she became opera legend Maria Callas in Francesco Vezzoli’s latest film.

Tauba Auerbach, Untitled (Fold) (2011).Image: Courtesy of Phillips.

Tauba Auerbach, Untitled (Fold) (2011).
Image: Courtesy of Phillips.

5. Tauba Auerbach
Pieces of Auerbach’s Fold series sold well at Phillips London this year. Untitled (Fold) (2011) went for $2.2 million in October, with Untitled (Fold) X (2009) selling for close to $1.9 million in February and Untitled (Fold) (2010) for almost $1.5 million at a recent November sale.

This year, we also caught a glimpse into Auerbach’s living room (and art-collecting habits) in the summer release of the book Artists Living With Art.

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 (1988).
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

6. Paula Rego
Sotheby’s London’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction this past July saw two works of Rego’s sell well. The cadet and his sister (1988) painted by the Portuguese artist fetched close to $1.8 million, while Looking out (1997) sold for $1.5 million.

Vija Celmins, Long Ocean (1973).Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Vija Celmins, Long Ocean (1973).
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

7. Vija Celmins
Celmins’s photorealistic painting Long Ocean (1973) sold for $1.3 million at Sotheby’s New York in May. This is a wise purchase, as she is also one of our Most Collectible Living Artists.

Beatriz Milhazes, O Moderno (2002).Image: Courtesy of Phillips.

Beatriz Milhazes, O Moderno (2002).
Image: Courtesy of Phillips.

8. Beatriz Milhazes
The colorful layers in Brazilian Milhazes’s O Moderno (2002) captured close to $1.3 million in a November auction at Phillips New York. Her sculptures were recently on view at James Cohan Gallery.

Jenny Saville Photo via: the Telegraph

Jenny Saville.
Photo via: the Telegraph.

9. Jenny Saville
The British painter’s Matrix (1999) sold for $1.2 million at Christie’s London in June. The piece went to auction to help fund the Museum of Old and New Art’s (MONA) expansion.

Tracey Emin, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made (1996).Image: Courtesy of Christie's.

Tracey Emin, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made (1996).
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

10. Tracey Emin
The February sale of Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made (1996) saw a $1.1 million gain for Christie’s London. The candid British artist sold work out of her car this summer.


Yayoi Kusama Photo via: Jamille Sodré

Yayoi Kusama.
Photo via: Jamille Sodré.

It should come as no surprise that 2015 was Yayoi Kusama’s year. An impressive 488 lots of hers sold at auction, with a sum total of $58 million. These value rankings below show artists’ performance at auction in the aggregate during 2015.

1. Yayoi Kusama: $58,348,118
2. Cady Noland: $9,803,603
3. Cindy Sherman: $9,602,247
4. Julie Mehretu: $8,649,965
5. Tauba Auerbach: $5,930,613
6. Paula Rego: $3,407,592
7. Chen Peiqiu: $2,981,394
8. Tracey Emin: $2,751,275
9. Beatriz Milhazes: $2,740,511
10. Elizabeth Peyton: $2,714,626

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