I should stand up for fellow art bitches and applaud this week’s lyst of the most wealthy female artists: were your gut feelings also instantly of “female artists are rich?”,or even, “female artists make money?”. What a happy event that we can congratulate ten women who’ve well and truly managed to quit the full time job without having to blow Jay Jopling (oh, apart from…). For what strikes you in this countdown is the consistency of critical acclaim afforded to each, as opposed to sheer business prowess.
You may remember Artlyst’s top 10 wealthiest males which were the usual roll call of Andy Warhol-shaped cold hard filthy business moguls. Indeed, the top ten wealthiest artists today are men only: yet another glass ceiling in yet another sector. However it’s refreshing that many on this wealthy bytch lyst are renowned for sheer hard graft and a conscientious impact on art history, rather than the market. The likes of Jenny Holzer have incredibly managed to become wealthy while perpetuating a serious and earnest agenda of questioning gender politics. While these individual statements of wealth are nowhere near the stratosphere of Hirstjob and Koonsjob, what’s noticeable is that the art and its purpose is actually at the centre of attention for once.
The linking figures in the two lists of male and female richest artists are Gerhard Richter and Paula Rego: both demonstrate the power and integrity of sheer hard graft and technical skill. Many of the male artists employed a brand and cultivated it to extract as much filthy lucre as possible: here Jenny Saville and Rego remind us that it is all about the piece of work slaved over in a studio to bring us a unique and hand crafted view. As opposed to another splatter skull flogged in the Tate. In fact I’d wager that Yayoi Kusama is the only female artist of this level of wealth that is arguably based on a brand idea. The female works have done that rare thing which undermines the shiny shallow importance of stupid money: made pieces that resonate on an emotional, cultural level.
Which brings me to.. urgh I can’t even type the blasphemy.. Yoko Ono. With oodles of cash, I still firmly maintain the accusation levelled that her continuing success derives entirely from Lennon. Before feminists rise up in arms against me, I argue that Ono’s art has long since ceased to be grounded by earthly concerns: when the idea of wondering where your next meal may come from, or what it’s like to actually worry about bills, is a memory far far gone, your peace-led art is as fanciful and abstract and self indulgent as ever, removed from any kind of current concerns. When her shows feature a light emitting morse code for ‘I love you’ (does she actually think this is enough to ensure world peace?!) it is as fluffy and ineffectual and as a song written in the 60s chanting that, really, love is all you need. Not like, resolving conflicts, or confronting the arms trade or anything. Cut Piece was Ono’s best and original work, and since then her waffling on about love solving world hunger has only served to remind us of how nice life is when you’ve got a fuck ton of money.
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