12 December, 2019
B. BIOGRAPHY OF THE ARTIST: WHAT DOES THE ARTIST'S CURRICULUM TELL YOU ABOUT AN ARTWORK?
Some time ago, London Trade Art announced the production of “ABC’s of art evaluation”, a guidebook on art investment which aims to provide a compelling manual on the complexity of art appraisal for anyone willing to better understand the art industry and to possibly make smart investments. It will be composed of three chapters, each focusing on a specific aspect which influences the value of artworks:
A. Artworks: What to look for when buying art?
B. Biography of the artist: What does the artist’s curriculum tell you about an artwork?
C. Contemporary Art Market: What are the current trends and how do they influence the market of a specific artist?
After having identified the most objective characteristics of artworks affecting art evaluation in the first chapter of our art investment guide, The ABC's of Art Evaluation, it’s time to focus on the second chapter, 'B. Biography of the artist: What does the artist’s curriculum tell about an artwork?', in order to discover how the artists’ curriculum and career can have an impact on the market value of their work.
In fact, sometimes, in art appraisal, the artist’s reputation is considered as relevant as the artwork itself. In today’s mainstreamed art system, the most popular contemporary artists are increasingly more influential on the market trends, being recognised and acclaimed worldwide. Artists’ talent, style and research are essential characteristics to take into account to fully understand their work, thus attributing them a market value.
- The artist’s curriculum
The artist’s curriculum is one of the main matters of interest for art purchases. The story and competence of the person behind the artwork are as essential as the attributes and characteristics of the work itself. The artist’s CV sums up the important information about the artist’s background, helping to better contextualise his/her market influence: education, artistic residencies, past or current solo and group shows, biennals or fairs participation , representative galleries, are the details to take more into account.
Starting from education - even if in art history there are many cases of self-taught artists, like Van Gogh, Henri Rousseau, Alberto Burri - nowadays it is meaningful that an artist attends an art school, possibly a prestigious one, and forges a unique technique on the base of a deep knowledge of the artistic heritage. In an increasingly more competitive art system, educated artists have more chances to develop their style sooner, reaching a wider audience and more easily accessing institutional professional channels.
2. Artist residencies
During the artist’s career, also the attendance to artist-in-residency programs is very well evaluated. Residencies give young artists the opportunity to take some time for their research in a different environment, usually abroad, for a limited period of time. During the residencies, artists can experiment new styles and techniques, getting in touch with different cultural heritages, locations and media which can produce a long-term impact on the artist’s work life.
The artist’s biography also gives an overview of the current and past exhibitions in which the artist took part t. When examining the importance of the artist’s shows, it is useful to consider if they were local or international, solo or group shows. An artist with an international curriculum is favoured more by the market than an artist who exhibited only in a local context. Also, solo shows are even estimated more than group shows because they are the result of a deep commitment by the representative gallery or by the artist to invest in the artist’s growth. However, if a group show features valuable artists, perhaps even more famous than the considered one, then the group show can help to set the level of the artist’s production, as it will be compared to the other artists’ works.
At the same time, the more prestigious the location, the more likely the artworks will increase in value. As said before, if the artist is represented by a renowned gallery, which has curated exhibitions featuring the artist’s works, then the market value of those pieces will likely be higher than works that have never been exhibited.
Finally, the CV should report if the artist has exhibited at international biennals or fairs. If so, depending on the fame of the event, the market value of the artist’s work will probably increase.
Hermann Landshoff (1905 - 1986), Peggy Guggenheim and a group of exiliated artists, New York, 1942, Courtesy arte.it
- Market positioning and coefficient of the artist
When looking at an artwork, the meaning and the conceptual message the artist wants to communicate are not always immediate, but knowing more about the artist can make the identification of the uniqueness and of the value of the work easier.
To do so, it is important to deduct the maturity of the artist’s career and of his/her market positioning. Considering some characteristics related to the artistic production and to the academic and professional background, the artist can be categorised as emergent, mid-career or established artist.
Becoming an established artist is a long and sometimes spiny path, made of small and constant achievements which, during the time, define the reputation and the stature of the artist’s work. From an investment risks point of view, collecting emerging artists, usually at the begging of their career, is sometimes considered quite a bet. Nevertheless, if these promising talents are smart, good, brave and lucky enough to make their career flourishing over their work life, they will probably increase their artworks’ prices on the medium/ long-term.
Established artists’ works, instead, are more stable on the market from an economic perspective, so much that critics believe their quotations will keep rising, thus guaranteeing a reasonably safe investment, even if expensive. As well as for any professional of any field, reputation and trust come at a high price for the client. “Picasso was once asked, in the park, to create a portrait of a woman; he did so in just a few minutes, and when he quoted her 5,000 francs for the piece, she went into a rage. When demanding that it was an absurd price for something which took “only minutes to create”, Picasso replied calmly: “No, madam, it took me a lifetime to create it.” (https://www.artacacia.com/blogs/posts/what-determines-price-art)
One of the reasons why the prices of artworks by emerging artists are more contained, is related to the score of the artists’ coefficient. There is a mathematical formula, in fact, which helps to define the economic value of an artwork, based on a parameter called art coefficient. The coefficient is a score, starting from 0.1/0.2 for an emerging artist up to 1/3 for an established world-class artist. The coefficient is calculated on the base of the maturity of the artists’ curriculum and it is particularly useful for emerging artist, of whose artworks the market price is difficult to evaluate. Usually, when the artist is represented by a gallery, the gallery’s owner will assign an art coefficient, which will increase during the artist’s career. The coefficient of an artist can change depending on the characteristics of the artwork. If the piece has been created with a unique or expensive technique or it is particularly important within the artist’s production, then the artist or the gallery can choose to increase the coefficient for that specific work. Moreover, an artist can assign different coefficients to artworks depending on the medium used: sculptures, paintings, mosaics, photographs etc. Generally speaking, if an artwork is a unique piece, then the coefficient will be higher compared to the coefficient of a print or of a series. Also, during a period of great experimentation and creativity, the overall coefficient can grow. The size of the piece is also important, as the mathematical calculation involves multiplying the sum of its length and height in cm by the coefficient and finally multiplying the result again by ten:
[(length + height) x coefficient] x 10 = price of the work
For example, applying the formula to the works of a young artist with a coefficient of 0.3: the sum of the dimensions (50cm + 50cm) multiplied by the score 0.3, and then the result multiplied again by 10, leads to a price of £300.00:
[(50 + 50) x 0.3] x 10 = £300,00
- Representative galleries
Another important factor to take into account is the artist’s representative gallery. The prestige and reputation of a gallery can influence the market value of an artist. When a gallerist decides to represent a specific artist, he/she will put a lot of effort in supporting the artist’s work, investing in solo or group shows, publications and marketing. The more the artist’s works are displayed and honoured, the more valuable they become.
Reputation in art is everything. If an emerging artist succeeds to exhibit at a prestigious gallery with a solo show or a group show that features respected artists, then the artist’s prominence and the value of the works will likely increase. For instance, if a gallery like Gagosian or Hauser and Wirth decides to take an emerging artist under their wings, then it is very likely that that artist’s market will see a tangible growth. The reason is that they have built their trust amongst some of the most influential critics and collectors, supporting quality art by emerging as well as by established artists. Another advantage is that the gallery already has a trusted and perhaps consistent network of clients, which, at least at the beginning, would be otherwise unreachable by the artist alone. In exchange for this commitment, the gallery deducts a high commission fee from the sale of every artist’s work, which can reach up to 60% of the commercial price, while the artist will just keep 40%.
As a result, artists are increasingly referring to agents and middle-men to sell artworks to avoid the high fees of the galleries or even eliminate them by exploiting the advantages offered by the Internet. On the wave of the current boom in online art, platforms, marketplaces and digital communities offer artists the opportunity to propose art independently, potentially reaching a huge target audience, also through a clever use of social media. Thanks to these new tools, the market is also benefiting of more transparency and fairness of prices. When considering buying an artwork by an emerging artist, it would be useful to do research not only of any representative gallery, but also of his/her presence on the Internet.
Larry Gagosian and Jean-Michel Basquiat (date unknown), Courtesy Gagosian
- Collections featuring the artist’s work
If some of the artist’s pieces have been purchased by important collectors, then the whole production may be affected by an increase in value. It is common knowledge that the art market is a small-scale industry and the taste and the decisions made by a certain elite of collectors are followed by smaller players. Very often they are able to set proper market trends, acting almost like contemporary influencers. Some collectors are enthusiast in showing the artists’ works they collect, sometimes supporting them with the organisation of intellectual salons and private visits of their collections or simply renting their artworks for international exhibitions.
Some other collectors are more reserved and not keen on divulging details about their acquisitions, often purchasing behind the name of some middle-men, thus limiting the access to this kind of information. This difficulty is directly linked to the issue of the lack of transparency in the provenance of an artwork (see ABC’s OF ART EVALUATION. A. Artworks: What to look for when buying art?), as ownership of the work is an essential piece of information that should be accessible, in particular when the artwork re-enters the market. Considering that, it’s clear that an exposure of the ownership, could be beneficial also for the collector, as it could cause an increasing in the value of the collector’s piece over the time.
Also, the artwork’s inclusion within an institution’s or museum’s collection is important in its evaluation. The more works of the artist are in a public collection, the higher will be the visibility of the artist, and hence higher the demand of his/her works. If an artist’s works are part of a publicly renowned collection, the artist has likely already reached a high level of fame and recognition in the market, which is less likely in the case of young emerging artists.
- Press coverage and professional publications
It has already been explained the importance of the catalogue raisonné (see ABC’s OF ART EVALUATION. A. Artworks: What to look for when buying art?), most of all for established artists whose production can be consistent and the authenticity of their works sometimes controversial. However, it is also relevant for emerging artists to accumulate over time as much high-quality bibliography as possible. Publications, catalogues and press coverage of the artists’ exhibitions are all very important to enhance the quality and the value of the works. In particular, if a renowned curator, art historian or art critic writes about a specific artist’s work, the whole production may likely gain more visibility and reputation with the curatorial opinion as well as the general public. In this increasingly liquid market, the role of the Internet is again essential. Nowadays, artists have huge power in spreading information through websites, social media and dedicated platforms. Many art magazines and newspapers established themselves online and opened their doors to the potentially boundless digital audience. This represents a big opportunity for artists, but also creates more competition for information. Therefore, collectors should be very careful in considering the quality and the resonance of what they read on the Internet. In the end, a professional publication will always have a more consistent weight.
- Quality and style of the artist’ work
Quality might be conceived as one the most difficult parameters to evaluate when appraising art, as it often refers to a very subjective judgement. However, there are some characteristics that can be useful to consider when esteeming the quality of a work. The first rule is: the more you train the eye, the more you’ll be able to compare high, medium and low quality artworks. Technical skill, in fact, is the most comparable and measurable aspect. Looking at an artwork, it will probably be easy to determine how skilfully it was created simply by comparison with other works. Attending exhibitions, visiting museums, reading articles and news will surely help to develop a personal taste and a more critical assessment. It just takes some time. When deciding which specific artwork to buy, it is helpful to analyse the entire production of the artist; even if a piece does not catch the eye at first sight, it might be the most valuable from a technical point of view, hence one of the most promising in terms of purpose of the investment, which should always be balanced with personal taste. The artist’s style is another important element. Every artist has their own style and uses specific media with a unique technique. One of the artist’s goals should be to achieve the sophistication of a distinguished and recognisable technique, so that the market will develop an interest towards something that is clearly made by one person; it becomes in one word, unmistakable. All the greatest artists reached their success because people could easily recognise the innovation of their art, contained not only in the message, but also in their technique. Jackson Pollock, for instance, who at the beginning was an exponent of the abstract expressionism, over his career created a very unique style which gave birth to a new technique called “dripping”, based on the fact that the paint is dripped or poured on the canvas, usually using unconventional tools, such as sticks, hardened brushes or knives, to create large and energetic abstract works. The style had a huge impact on his art peers, but also on art history, having established a brand new art movement, which influenced future generations of artists. Other artists may specialise in mosaics, sculpture, photography or something never seen before, as long as they create something refined in the aspect which is the result of deep experimentation and research.
Examination of all these aspects should help any potential collector to evaluate the economic and intrinsic importance of a deep understanding not only of the artwork of interest, but also of the artist’s background and career. It’s becoming clear that appraising art requires effort and patience, being an onerous and time consuming commitment. But we are not yet at the end of the evaluation process. The third and final chapter, “C. Contemporary Art Market: What are the current trends and how do they influence the market of a specific artist?” will reflect on the commercial impact of the current overall market trends when considering buying a specific artwork.
So, if you want to discover more, stay tuned for new chapters from LTArt’s guidebook “ABC’s of art evaluation”.