Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Lynne Drexler, Two Remarkable Women Set to Shake the Market in 2023


Female artists are fetching more remarkable prices at auction today than they have in the past. We are currently witnessing a very marked uptake of their works among collectors as well as a clear reorientation of the value spectrum towards the female gender. But we are also seeing a movement to revise prices in such a way that important creators should not be forgotten by the art market. The prices of female artists have been rising for several years, while new exhibitions are being prepared to promote the strength of their works. A look back at the recent – and extraordinary – performances of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Lynne Drexler on the global auction market, a market that is still only at the very beginning of what it could do for these female artists.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

Last October, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas) hosted a retrospective of Jaune Quick-to-See SMITH co-organized with the Whitney Museum of American Art, a museum which is about to offer the octogenarian Native American artist and activist her first New York retrospective (April – August 2023). The exhibition, the largest and most comprehensive of her work to date, brings together nearly five decades of drawings, prints, paintings and carvings by Smith.

Born in 1940 on an Indian reservation in Montana – the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Indian Reservation – Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is one of the most influential North American Indian artists. A graduate of several universities and holder of four honorary doctorates, she has developed, since the 1970s, abstract work based on complex networks of lines and colors, integrating hybrid materials such as maps and newspaper clippings.

Ironically, she told her art teacher during her studies that she could not become an artist because she was a woman. But she had a prolific career and her work has been the subject of more than a hundred solo exhibitions. She has notably received the Joan-Mitchell Foundation Prize and has joined many prestigious private and institutional collections, including those of the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 2020, the National Gallery of Art in Washington acquired her painting I See Red: Target (1992), the first purchase of a painting by a Native American artist by the American institution.

Since 2020, therefore, American institutions seem to be accelerating their commitments to indigenous art and private collectors are following the movement, bidding firmly for her works in auction rooms. Almost non-existent on the secondary market until recently, last year 26 works by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith generated more than a million dollars, placing Jaune among the 1000 most successful artists of the year 2022 by annual auction turnover.

The market is waking up and engaging with enthusiasm: in May 2022, her work Fireweed multiplied its high estimate by 17 to reach $350,000 (at Leslie Hindman, Chicago); and I See Red: Talking to the Ancestors (1994) set an extraordinary record of $642,000 at Christie’s New York, from a low estimate of $80,000. A new discovery appears to have been adopted by the art auction market!


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: turnover at auction (copyright Artprice.com)

Lynne Drexler

Abstract Expressionist painter Lynne Mapp DREXLER (1928-1999) worked behind the scenes for decades from her isolated Maine island of Monhegan. Installed on this rocky promontory in 1983, in the midst of a few dozen inhabitants, she spent her days painting abstract and colorful works, which have earned her a posthumous place in the line of American Abstract Expressionists.

During her lifetime, her work was known only to a few regional amateurs and dealers, but she had no reception on the international art auction market. Ten years after her death, her prices were still unestablished: in 2009 a lot of two paintings sold for the meager sum of $1,500 at the James D. Julia auction house at James in Fairfield. The market did not begin to stir until 2020, when a 1966 canvas, Recalled green, sold for $26,000 at Barridoff Galleries, which was hoping for $6,000 at best. And for the past two years, it has been at Christie’s in New York that her canvases have been snapped up for sums of five, six, or even seven digits. Her most recent work presented (Herbert’s Garden, 1960) on May 13 last fetched $1.5 million.

Now, large and rare canvases from the 1950s and 60s, which would have fetched around $50,000 not long ago, can be sold for around $500,000.

Efforts to promote her abundant work could maintain such price levels. These include the recent exhibition Lynne Drexler: The First Decade organized in New York by Berry Campbell and the Mnuchin Gallery between October and December 2022, and the collective exhibition Shatter: Color Field and the Women of Abstract Expressionism, organized simultaneously in Hong Kong. The Asian city being a new and highly effective relay for the sale of the best Western abstract paintings.

Lynn Drexler: World ranking at auction (copyright Artprice.com)