The Richest Living Artists – You Don’t Know

Reading about artists lately is reading about how high the prices are. The hedge-fund auction houses media have finally won. It simply is about the asset, the art asset bought (I do not use the word collected) by wealthy men whose libraries are filled with catalogues of prices. Not art books about the artists.
The uninformed “art advisers” leading the uninformed buyers – so in the spirit of this, I will tell you who the wealthiest artists of today are. Who it is not is Akashi Murakami, Brice Marden, Julian Schnabel, Jasper Johns, Anish Kapoor, Zhanang Huan, Cai Guo Qiang, Zeng Fanzhi, John Baldessari, Bansky, Tracy Emin, Baselitz, Chuck Close, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter and many others. It is hard to know exactly what they make – one would have to speak to their business managers. One figure we have is that 45,000 artists in New York and London are struggling to make a living, around 75 in New York have superstar status earning seven figure sums. Probably in a moment in time have there been so many rich artists, then there are the few artists that no one has heard of, graffiti artist, David Choe painted the Facebook headquarters in 2007 and was rewarded with stock which is worth about $200m. Andrew Vicari has made an estimated $142m from supplying portraits and paintings of horses, battle and genre scenes to Middle Easterners. Maybe artists should think about receiving stock from their corporate collectors not just the price of their work. Taking it all to an extreme. Who knows, maybe Damien Hirst will wind up on the board of a few companies.
Those of you who want the historical moment when contemporary prices took off – it was in 2004 when Maurizio Catalan’s La Non Ora 1999 sold for over $3m. It created shock waves. Which brings us to today’s young artists like Matthew Day Jackson, Wade Guyton, Oscar Murillo and Nate Lowman who are achieving huge success with almost no museum shows, no evaluations by critics or curators. It all seems to rest on market expectations. Welcome to the wild west of gambling.

Who Buys Art Online

In a recent online study by Hiscox Art Trade Report 2014, they asked 506 established art buyers if they had bought fine art online. 38% had and 62% had not. On average, art buyers spend much less money online than in galleries and auction houses. There are advantages as well as disadvantages of buying online.

Advantages of buying art online:

  • less intimidating
  • cheaper
  • easier to discover new artisits

Disadvantages of buying art online

  • return policy not know
  • buying a forgery
  • can’t physically inspect painting

Jpeg Bombing

Well all the funs gone. Going to art fairs and looking at the best pieces sold on the opening means that galleries have presold on the basis of high-resolution jpegs.

 Buyers gathering last week at the opening of Art Basel.

Buyers gathering at the opening of Art Basel. Credit Niels Ackermann for The New York Times

The excitement of taking the trip and being first at the gate – all gone! We may as well sit home and go one line. Pre-selling has become routine which I saw a lot of this time At BaselArt. With some of the booths at BaselArt costing exhibitors more than $150,000 for their booths, transport and client entertainment. One can understand the dealers trying to offset their costs before the fair by finding clients for their best pieces and collectors have the confidence to make financial decisions based on photographs. But at least they couldn’t send “jpegs of the “14 Rooms” devoted to performance art. And in the end paintings win. Good old-fashioned paintings. There’s a reason for that and we’ll talk about it next time and who will last, that takes deep thinking and genius. Know any artist that qualifies?



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