Lists of the most collectible artists have become a hot topic for fine art publications recently so Appreciating Assets decided to weigh in. Vice President of Valuations, Mark Bench and Retail & Appraisal Manager, Elliot Roberts, reviewed BLOUIN ARTINFO’s 25 Most Collectible Midcareer Artists helping us make sense of the “midcareer” label and the usefulness of these lists.
When is an Artist in “Midcareer?”
Identifying a midcareer artist is challenging. These artists are likely to have a substantial body of work built up over 20 or so years but the pricing of their work may not equal their overall value in the secondary market. Mark believes that to be classified as “midcareer,” an artist should have an exhibit in a gallery. This is no easy feat.
Galleries tend to have high overheads so they must truly believe in an artists’ work and that their pieces will be saleable before they are willing to commit to a showing. Once the gallery agrees to an exhibition, the issue becomes how many pieces they will show. Galleries have a limited amount of real estate, leading to an art market that is controlled and selective. Since this is such a subjective space, what is an artist’s “best” piece in the eyes of some may not make the gallery’s cut. This potentially narrows an artist’s exposure even further.
Perplexing Secondary Market
One might think that if an artist has been producing art for decades and has been featured in galleries that their artwork must be relatively valuable at auction. This isn’t necessarily the case. The top artist on BLOUIN ARTINFO’s list is Nari Ward. When you search for him on artnet’s price database, you will find that his highest priced work is estimated $4,000 to 6,000. The number two artist has no comparable sales. Prospects improve as you move down the list to artists three through five. These artists all have works in a range that Borro could lend on. Mark points out that only one artist, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., is an artist on whose work we have provided finance.
Lack of a secondary market is not an indication of the value of these artists’ body of work but more a reflection of the fact that an artist doesn’t have a strong secondary market, yet, as Elliot explained. Gallery exhibitions alone aren’t enough to establish a secondary market. Elliot remarks that it can take a long time for the market to catch up with the worthiness of an artist. In addition to exhibitions, it greatly assists artists to be featured in scholarly publications and presented in a reputable museum collection.
Choose Chelsea over a Collectibles List
Mark expounds that an interested fine art buyer should not depend on lists alone to make a collection-worthy purchase. Mark recommends an established art district like Chelsea in New York City to see which artists are featured in the galleries. For those unable to make the trip, Elliot offers that online auction sites have “leveled the playing field” making it much easier for those outside of NYC, Miami or Los Angeles to find great fine art.
Mark and Elliot agree that collectors should avoid buying art just because an artist is featured in an article and not to be dismayed if upon completing additional research, the artist’s work isn’t currently priced at a high value vis a vis auction results. Mark recommends that collectors buy what they like. They are in turn helping to build that artist’s market and increasing their standing in the fine art world.