Who are the wealthiest artists?

Here are two examples you don’t usually think of:

Then there are a couple of names who are totally unknown to most people, even in the art world. These are the richest artists you’ve never heard of: graffiti artist David Choe painted the Facebook headquarters in 2007 and was rewarded with stock, which now makes him worth about $200m. The Welshman Andrew Vicari has made an estimated $142m from supplying portraits and paintings of horses, battle and genre scenes to Middle Easterners, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

The longer article, by Georgina Adam, cites the Thompson estimate that there are about seventy-five “superstar” artists who regularly earn in seven figures.  And here is the new Georgina Adam book Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century.

Comments

Well, this observation from the article seems perfect for Marginal Revolution -

'“Artists going back over the centuries would ingratiate themselves with the powerful figures of the day, such as the Church or bankers. There’s nothing new here,” says Gregor Muir, the director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. “But it’s interesting to see how artists today are guided by our present culture of excessive wealth. In 2004 when Maurizio Cattelan’s La Nona Ora, 1999, sold for over $3m, it created a shock wave. Subsequently, some wanted to compete with this new price level for work by a living artist. A few would continue to forge ever closer ties with key international collectors and in some ways they started to embrace their lifestyles, with artists frequenting the best hotels and rubbing shoulders with the money as never before. It might even be argued that some started to produce work that was geared to the taste of the new collecting base. Moreover, these artists were becoming big business in themselves and it felt as though people with branding expertise were a part of the picture, alongside finance experts. During this period, the rapid price hike for contemporary art could not have been achieved by dealers alone.”'

Small steps to a returning to a world where pandering to the wealthy is the highest artistic achievement. Someone even wrote a book celebrating this, at least in part.

Who says it's "returning" to the highest? The wealthy have always been the best payers.

An interesting point, and one depending on the definition of art to a certain extent - films, for example, do require resources to create, but it is not the 'wealthy' that tend to be responsible for some of the greatest art expressed through film as a medium, though that is a judgment requiring another century or two to be even remotely valid. The same applies to photography.

Here, 'art' is being defined as what is sold/commissioned by the wealthy. Essentially, a taunting tautology that rejects the idea that art can exist independently of the value represented by a market price.

Huh? Art is being defined as...ummm....art. You know, paintings and stuff like that. Some of it happens to be sold to the wealthy, making the artists who do so rich. But nowhere is it being suggested that the act of selling it to a wealthy person is what makes it art.

Tell that to Thomas Kincaide. Well, tell his ex-wife anyway.

Small steps to a returning to a world where pandering to the wealthy is the highest artistic achievement.

Yeah, that is outrageous. They should be pandering to the aristocracy. As they are the only people with taste. Doesn't matter what your politics are - newly wealthy American businessmen, Saudi oil sheiks, Nazi ministers, and even Soviet bureaucrats all share an appalling lack of taste.

As do modern Western bureaucracies which is your preference I suspect.

It is only countries with long established aristocracies that produce good art. See Japan.

'It is only countries with long established aristocracies that produce good art. See Japan.'

The Dutch golden age painters and their work are probably one of the easist refutations possible to make in this regard.

Actually, the Dutch golden age painters are also quite notable in how they did not pander to their customers.

'newly wealthy American businessmen, Saudi oil sheiks, Nazi ministers, and even Soviet bureaucrats all share an appalling lack of taste'

Actually, art is what lasts - meaning that the judgments of the age in which work is produced is the age that gets subsequently mocked for its lack of taste in great art and its affinity for kitsch and schlock.. Though the future is unknowable, it is a safe prediction to note how unlikely it is that any of the current seven figure artists of this decade will be remembered as great artists in two centuries.

I don't know why you would think the Dutch provide a counter-example. The politics of the Netherlands might have been dominated by a wealthy set of urban oligarchs but it is not as if they lacked an aristocracy. An aristocracy that guided them in many ways:

That is not to say that aristocrats were without social status. On the contrary, wealthy merchants bought themselves into the nobility by becoming landowners and acquiring a coat of arms and a seal. Aristocrats also mixed with other classes for financial reasons: they married their daughters to wealthy merchants, became traders themselves or took up public or military office. Merchants also started to value public office as a means to greater economic power and prestige. Universities became career pathways to public office. Rich merchants and aristocrats sent their sons on a so-called Grand Tour through Europe. Often accompanied by a private tutor, preferably a scientist himself, these young people visited universities in several European countries. This intermixing of patricians and aristocrats was most prominent in the second half of the century.

Notice that last bit. They also benefited from being near aristocrats in several ways. They not only went on Tour and saw what good art was, but they trained overseas.

Your nihilistic approach to art is no surprise. But I doubt it is true. There is lasting and real value in good art. We do not vary much. Some artists go in and out of fashion. But the typical artist is not like van Gogh but like Rubens - so good that he put most other painters in his home town out of business when he came back from Italy. But there is no way that anyone is going to remember Jeff Koons in 200 years. 20 years might be lucky. Already you can't even give Damien Hirst's work away.

You are honestly trying to use the Dutch Republic and its achievements as an example of the benefits of aristocracy?

You honestly think that is a rebuttal? Or even a sensible point?

"Your nihilistic approach to art is no surprise"

Nice bit of confirmation-bias motivated misunderstanding. PA is pretty clearly positioning market valuation of art vs. some sort of intrinsic artistic value. Where he differs is in thinking that aristocrats are those capable of measuring that value.

GiT June 22, 2014 at 10:26 am

Nice bit of confirmation-bias motivated misunderstanding. PA is pretty clearly positioning market valuation of art vs. some sort of intrinsic artistic value. Where he differs is in thinking that aristocrats are those capable of measuring that value.

I did not misunderstand him. The "any old crap can be art if some idiot buys it" school of thought is too strong for it to pass unnoticed. That flat denial of lasting value is appalling, in my opinion. We can appreciate something like the surviving buildings of Kyoto even though the architecture and aesthetic is alien to the West because it somehow resonates with something universal and very human. To deny that is to deny something fundamentally true about human beings. No matter how uncool it is to say it.

I also think I am the one claiming that aristocrats are the only ones who know how to value art. Not PA. Which is odd because most of us know what we hate when we see art. But popular bodies are almost never able to produce decent art. I do have a certain fondness for Socialist Realism and, for that matter, for Fascist Art of various sorts. But I am not sure how popular they were.

"Actually, the Dutch golden age painters are also quite notable in how they did not pander to their customers."

What?

Many became famous after death (hard to pander when you're dead):

Vermeer, Van Gogh, Gaugain (he lived in the middle of nowhere in Polynesia.

Neither Gauguin nor Van Gogh were Dutch Golden Age painters. Vermeer, yes, but he was a moderately successful artist during his life, just not very productive. Then he was forgotten and later recovered.

chip June 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Many became famous after death (hard to pander when you’re dead):

I think it almost never happens that someone becomes famous after their death. Either they are recognized in their lifetime or they are forgettable. It is, no doubt, comforting to many people to think they are unsung geniuses, but I doubt that applies much in the art world.

Vermeer, Van Gogh, Gaugain (he lived in the middle of nowhere in Polynesia.

Vermeer suffered from a low output and a reliable buyer - most of his paintings went to one man who held on to them and so limited his fame. Plus it was a particularly violent period. But he was well known and respected in his lifetime. Just not very far from Delft. Well enough know to attract the attention of French visitors like Balthasar de Monconys. Van Gogh is the prototype but then he was insane. That must have been a bit of a problem. His reputation has also been very carefully managed by first his sister and then a foundation. So it is hard to know if people would be all that interested in him but for that cartel-like behavior.

And,as you say, Gauguin living on a small island in the middle of the Pacific while going insane from untreated syphilis probably didn't help.

Frans Banning Cocq was a forgetable dutch peasant that became famous just because Rembrant painted him ;) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_Banning_Cocq

And continuing in the Warholesque age we live in, when checking out In Praise of Commercial Culture, one finds that there are actually 'collectible editions' -

Hardcover - 18 Used from $4.19, 7 New from $25.00, 1 Collectible from $20.95

Paperback - 37 Used from $0.02, 22 New from $16.75, 1 Collectible from $15.10

There is nothing that cannot be 'collectible' in modern America, and as some seem to believe in this age, art is defined by the ability to collect it, with a price tag attached.

The collectible editions are books signed by the author. Collecting stuff with famous people's signatures on it is nothing new. Also, I don't know of anyone who considers it art.

Franklin Mint Richard Petty 1:24 1977 Olds 442 - $189.95
Franklin Mint Richard Petty 1:24 1970 Road Runner Superbird prototype - $1250

It's interesting how little guitars played by rich guys' boyhood heroes go for. The problem with owning a guitar with a provenance rather than a painting with a provenance is that your guests might expect you to play it for them and you don't play as good as Jimmy Page.

Peter Lik has to be up there. Prints of his photographs go for $ tens of thousands - $ thousands for the cheap ones - and there are tens of thousands of prints in existence. Do the math.

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