I’m a little late to this game, but I just found the New Economist blog entry on David Galenson’s paper on the subject of women artists. Galenson added up the number of times that women artists’ work appeared in textbooks of art history, and came to the conclusion that Cindy Sherman was the greatest artist of the 20th Century, with Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Frida Kahlo rounding out the top five.
Says New Economist:
I like Sherman’s work. But I doubt it retain its dominance over the next few decades. These days, there are just too many imitators, wherease O’Keeffe and Kahlo were both one of a kind (and with amazing bios too). Let’s face it, how many leading women actors want to make a film about Cindy’s life story? As for Bourgeois, while at times her work is very innovative, most of it leaves me underwhelmed.
This is ridiculously far from the mark. The fact is that Sherman is the only artist on the list with a real claim to significant innovation, influence, and importance. O’Keeffe’s work has not aged well, I’m afraid, and although Bourgeois and Hesse have both done truly great work, neither of them have the kind of obvious place in any history of 20th Century art that Sherman does. If anything, I’d’ve expected to see at least some of Bridget Riley, Rebecca Horn, Nan Goldin, Barbara Kruger, Rachel Whiteread, and Jenny Holzer further up the list. (My own favorite, Agnes Martin, is just my own favorite: I don’t expect her to top this kind of list.)
For me, though, the really interesting competition is not between Sherman and O’Keeffe, but between Sherman and her ex-boyfriend, Richard Prince. Prince has now handily overtaken Sherman in the auction market, with at least one piece topping the $2 million mark — and increasingly I’m seeing him considered one of the very few “must-have” artists in any serious contemporary-art collection.
I think it’s advantage Prince right now, despite the fact that Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills are significantly better than anything that Prince has ever done. The reason is that Sherman refuses to simply do the same thing over and over again, while Prince revels in doing just that. And the art world loves an artist it can happily pigeonhole, especially when a large part of what he does involves cocking a snook at the art world itself.
Of course, it’ll be a long time before there’s any consensus on how the history of 20th Century art really played out, and in future years re-runs of Galenson’s methodology might throw up the likes of Elizabeth Peyton, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, or, if auction results have meaning, Marlene Dumas.
As for artists of the 21st Century, it’s obviously early days yet. But Julie Mehretu and Pipilotti Rist are already on the shortlist.