Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Art In Hard Data

I am not, by nature, competitive. I detest the idea of pitting art and artists against each other in competitions. However, I'm always keenly aware of where I stand against other artists of my age when it comes to the monetary value of my work.
The secondary market created by auction houses is generally regarded as the arena in which the desirability of an artist's work is translated into hard currency. The prices achieved by individual works are not just public, they are tracked globally and widely publicised.
Auctions are about as close as the traditional art market gets to transparency. Which is not to say that the trading is always fair. Artists, dealers and collectors often try to manipulate prices by ramping but it's an obvious strategy that courts a nasty crash when the ramping stops. Before I left the traditional gallery system, a well-known Melbourne gallery proposed a deal in which they would ramp my prices at auction in return for cheap works and exclusive representation – I refused.
I have never sold my own works at auction. I don't buy them back either – a tactic used by more artists and galleries than you'd think. Dealers call it support and it helps maintain parity between the prices achieved at auction, which are public, and those promoted by the gallery in the primary market. In the commercial world outside the art market, it's called price fixing and is against the law.
In 2004, when I was still in my twenties, my career was considered to be over. I had given up art. I had yet to realise that what I really wanted was not to give up art but to give up the traditional gallery system. It wasn't until a year later that I decided to take an entirely different approach to promoting and selling my work. In 2008, the first of my works turned up in local auction catalogues, with pre-sale estimates that greatly exceeded the original sale prices.
Yesterday, I came across the Australian Art Auction Records' list of the Top 50 Most Traded Artists By Value across Australian and New Zealand in 2011 (scroll down to the foot of the page). I was listed at no. 41.
Established in 1973, Australian Art Auction Records is "a service that documents historical art auction results and makes them available for users to analyse the Australian and New Zealand art market." Their reports used to be distributed as hard copy and later, on CD. They are now online. Unusually for the artworld, the reports are not subjective. They are just compilations of hard data.
I subscribed, curious to see the graph of sales values for my own work. The history is shallow but my prices trace an acute, vertiginous ascent. In the past three years, 31 of my works have been auctioned for a total gross value of $225,515. These range from photographs and studies on paper to enamel works, mostly small to medium-sized, with values spanning a few hundred dollars to over $17,000.
I'd been very concerned that a large number of unfinished or draft works sold from my bankrupt estate would have a negative impact on the overall value of my work. They haven't. To date, the works of mine that have sold at auction for lower-than-expected prices have all been damaged – as evidenced by the auction houses' own condition reports.
I am fucking thrilled. Of the four women on the list, I am the youngest by far – and one of the very few under 35. But what I am most proud of is that I am the only 'independent': the first artist to create a successful, internationally recognised career, acknowledged by the litmus-test of the auction system, solely by using the web.
I've made no bones of my contempt for the traditional system and I've done what I can to outline an architecture for an alternative paradigm from which other artists can evolve their own strategies. The author
Gore Vidal once observed, "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." But when it comes to revolution, the success of one can only bode well for the success of others.

5 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Congratulations, you earned all of it and on your own terms!!!!

#janetbr said...

Congratulations! You have achieved so much on your own terms and I applaud you

Karen Martin Sampson said...

Happily applauding your success...earned by your own efforts! Wonderful.

Elie said...

Your pioneering makes it easier for the rest of us! Well done.

Karo akpokiere said...

Congratulations Hazel! You totally deserve it and I am truly inspired. :-). I