You asked and we answered. Thank you to everyone that sent in questions for last month’s Ask Artfacts. For our 15th anniversary, we decided to give back to our subscribers by inviting them to ask us their burning questions to be answered using Top Data.
We chose a question that addresses the duplicity that plagues the art world. People ask us all the time, why do some artists prosper immediately, while others gain fame post-mortem? Why do some sell steadily, while others show with nary a penny to their name, years later, or never? We can answer these questions by measuring trends over the years, as well as quantifying the subjective to provide insight.
We call it Top Data, you can learn more about it by clicking here.
Our featured question comes from E.H.
I went to NYC where I meet a well known gallerist. He said in order to make it in the international art world, one needs either a famous curator to stand behind them, a famous museum to show them, or a famous arts magazine to publish their work.
He also said that certain gallerists make arrangements concerning who to push towards fame! So ArtFacts, Is that true? If that is indeed the case, is it true that 99,99 percent of us have no chance at all?
Things are not as dire as they seem, depending on how you look at the situation. The playing field may certainly not be equal for a variety of unmeasurable reasons, but each artist has the obligation to present their work to as many people as possible, and not every gallerist is swayed by politics. There’s also your definition of success to consider. To you, what is having a chance? Is it gaining millions in sales, or showing at the Gagosian?
Here are the hard facts you’ve come to us for. First, we looked at our catalogue and determined that of the artists in our database listed in the Mei/Moses Index, .01% (approx. 400) are sold and traded constantly. Think Andy Warhol or Picasso, for example. 10% of artists in the index (approx. 40,000) are traded and sold occasionally. And the remaining 90% (approx. 360,000) do not have an established secondary market and don’t show up at all, meaning that little of their work has been bought, traded, or re-sold. Often, they have only a few auction records, if any. That being said, many artists gain curatorial success without representation or measurable sales. That’s the kind of success we measure.
What’s the takeaway? It’s hard to break into the market and make millions, but it’s not at all impossible. You might be a high-ranking artist with little in sales but a lot more in fame. Success is entirely subjective. That uncertainty is what makes the world of art so exciting, mysterious, and worthwhile as an artist, regardless of a number.