Were the Guerilla Girls right that Jasper Johns’ art was a poor long-term investment?

The Guerrilla Girls Talk Art, Activism and New Book | HYPEBEAST
Guerilla Girls poster from the Guerilla Girls Talk Back collection (1989). Source: Tate

Short answer: Probably not…yet?

Jasper Johns. False Start I. 1962 | MoMA
False Start I by Jasper Johns (1962). Source: MoMA

Medium answer: The specific Jasper Johns painting in question (False Start) sold for $17.05 million in 1988. It was most recently sold in 2006 for $80 million. Since that time, the blue-chip art market has seen over 300% appreciation (Artprice100 Index). Although the true price of this painting won’t be known until the next auction, we can conservatively estimate a 1,000% return in less than 35 years.

Artprice’s index of the price of works by “blue-chip” artists. Source

On my recent trip to the Cantor Arts Center, I came across a packet explaining some research by Jennie Waldow. Ms. Waldow is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford’s Department of Art and Art History and a student curator at the Cantor. For this particular project, Art/Object: Contemporary Works between Mediums, Ms. Waldow explores objects that defy easy classification into mediums. This includes posters, documents, and invitations to exhibits that were not created primarily for art. For example, Ms. Waldow notes that some artists’ intense artistic sensibilities carry over into all their work, even mundane things such as invitations to exhibits, elevating otherwise disposable pieces of paper into art. Other artists, such as Jacob Lawrence, created an original poster design for the Whitney Exhibition that clearly had great artistic merit. Finally, there are written certifications for installation projects that could otherwise easily be copied and thus are integral components of these works of art (reminds one of NFTs in art…)

Artwork Title: Poster Design for the Whitney Exhibition - Artist Name: Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence. Poster Design for the Whitney Exhibition. 1974. Source

In any case, Ms. Waldow also discussed how to classify the gorilla masks used by the Guerilla Girls (personal conclusion – probably not art?). This reminded me of some of the groups’ posters, including the one at the top of the article that I first saw at the Tate Modern a few years ago. As some background, the Guerilla Girls are an anonymous activist group who highlight discrimination in the art world. Soon after the group was founded in 1985, the Guerilla Grils started producing posters inspired by flyposting to highlight the systemic inclusion of women and artists of color from museums, galleries, and exhibitions.

Guerrilla Girls | Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? |  Whitney Museum of American Art
Guerilla Girls. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met? (1989). Source

In 1989, the Guerilla Girls launched the Guerilla Girls Talk Back collection of posters. As explained above, one of these posters singled out the recent sale of a Jasper Johns painting for over $17 million, setting a record for most expensive artwork by a living artist. The group then listed a variety of other artists whose works could have been purchased for the same price. I was curious to see how much the works of these 67 other artists would be worth today. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find good auction information – there is a database available at Artsy.com, but it both doesn’t include private sales and is not easily searchable. However, this website did put together a great article examining the value of artwork by male and female artists. The overall conclusion is that works by female artists are still valued less than work by male artists.

Median prices for female vs. male artists by region. Source

This trend holds true both around the world (above) and across a variety of mediums (below). We certainly have a long way to go before there is greater parity between sales prices of male and female artists. As a final note, Jasper Johns continues to hold the record for most expensive artwork by a living artist; his Flag was sold in 2010 for $110 million.


  1. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/guerrilla-girls-when-racism-and-sexism-are-no-longer-fashionable-how-much-will-your-art-p78791
  2. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/67552
  3. https://www.investing.com/studios/article-1012
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-59431610
  5. https://arthur.io/art/jacob-lawrence/poster-design-for-the-whitney-exhibition
  6. https://whitney.org/collection/works/46924
  7. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/guerrilla-girls-guerrilla-girls-talk-back-81163
  8. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-work-female-artists-valued-work-male-artists


List of artists in the Guerilla Girl poster.

  • Bernice Abbott
  • Anni Albers
  • Sofonisba Anguissola
  • Diane Arbus
  • Vanessa Bell
  • Isabel Bishop
  • Rosa Bonheur
  • Elizabeth Bougereau
  • Margaret Bourke-White
  • Romaine Brooks
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Emily Carr
  • Rosalba Carriera
  • Mary Cassatt
  • Constance Marie Charpentier
  • Imogen Cunningham
  • Sonia Delaunay
  • Elaine de Kooning
  • Lavinia Fontana
  • Meta Warwick Fuller
  • Artemesia Gentileschi
  • Marguérite Gérard
  • Natalia Goncharova
  • Kate Greenaway
  • Barbara Hepworth
  • Eva Hesse
  • Hannah Hoch
  • Anna Huntington
  • May Howard Jackson
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Angelica Kauffmann
  • Hilma af Klint
  • Käthe Kollwitz
  • Lee Krasner
  • Dorothea Lange
  • Marie Laurencin
  • Edmonia Lewis
  • Judith Leyster
  • Barbara Longhi
  • Dora Maar
  • Lee Miller
  • Lisette Model
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker
  • Tina Modotti
  • Berthe Morisot
  • Grandma Moses
  • Gabriele Münter
  • Alice Neel
  • Louise Nevelson
  • Georgia O’Keefe
  • Meret Oppenheim
  • Sarah Peale
  • Ljubova Popova
  • Olga Rosanova
  • Nellie Mae Rowe
  • Rachel Ruysch
  • Kay Sage
  • Augusta Savage
  • Vavara Stepenova
  • Florine Stettheimer
  • Sophie Taeuber-Arp
  • Alma Thomas
  • Marietta Robusti Tintoretto
  • Suzanne Valadon
  • Remedios Varo
  • Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun
  • Laura Wheeling Waring

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: