A successful year in 2012


A successful year in 2012 – artists’ film and video as reflected in art-market ratings

Can artists’ importance, and ultimately the value of their works, be measured objectively? The German business magazine Capital makes this claim, backing it by referring to the “art scene’s ratings agency”, Artfacts.Net. For many years now, Capital has been publishing its so-called “Art Market Compass” each year as an orientation guide for art buyers. This is a ranking of the “world’s most important living artists”, whose data are compiled by Artfacts.Net according to an “objective points system”.

The annual ranking, with detailed information and individual analyses available for a fee, reflects how at least a portion of the market rates the importance of various artists. As the art form is also cited, ranging from painting and sculpture to film and photography and also including performance, the listings indicate how much importance has been attached to each form – such as film or video – over a longer period of time.

The Top 100 list of the Art Market Compass can thus be used as a basis for comparisons. Coincidentally, the Compass began to be published online just as video art “arrived” on the art market (with a 20- to 25-year delay ;-). The following results are based on an evaluation of the rankings at five-year intervals, in the years 2000, 2005 and 2010, as well as on the current Art Market Compass for 2012.


In 2000 the list still distinguished between media and video art. Among the Top 100 there are only four artists listed under the sections video art and media art. In the video art section are Pipilotti Rist and Gary Hill, ranked eighth and 79th respectively. The Swiss artist Rist is referred to here as a shooting star, but it is her installations rather than her videos that go for high prices on the art market. In the category of media art, Stan Douglas and Gillian Wearing rank among the top hundred. While Stan Douglas rose from 107th place the previous year to 56th in 2000, Wearing’s star ascended the furthest in that year’s ranking, from 156th to 82nd place.

Since then, video art has made a slow but steady climb in the rankings. In 2005, 12 video and media artists were cited amongst the Top 100. For the first time, film appears as art form – with William Kentridge ranked number 11! Five years later, there were 17 names amongst the first hundred. Meanwhile, Kentridge had advanced to 8th place, Douglas Gordon was ranked 16, and another representative of the category of film had also made the grade: Pierre Huyghe (21). The “classic” Bill Viola is ranked number one.

In 2012, the term “media art” was dropped and only 22 artists working in film or (single-channel) video were amongst the Top 100. With “film as art form”, Tacita Dean also made it into the Top 100.

Worthy of note in the period from 2000 to today is the steady rise of photography. Of the technology-based art forms, it has now overtaken film and video. The Artprice agency estimated that photography made up 6.8% of all sales on the art market in 2011, while the rest of the “new media” accounted for only 0.4%.
Photographs are certainly easier to sell as an investment and collector’s item, and they are easier to handle than films and videos, not least because they can be “packaged” and exhibited like paintings. A few filmmakers have naturally realized this by now, and many are also offering individual film frames as prints.
In 2012, 30 artists working in the medium of photography were already among the Top 100. But the decline of film and video as compared to photography was noticeable outside the art market much earlier and more markedly, for example in public exhibitions.

The art market itself is always slow to react and obviously regards works of proven value as safer investments. To make its assessments, it relies on a small group of opinion leaders (large galleries, auction houses and private collectors). The central criterion of quality is a work’s sales prospects. Just like the ratings agencies on the financial market, the art market is now also working with tables and diagrams, price data and charting techniques.

The Artist Rankings on which Capital bases its Art Compass pay homage to the so-called “economy of attention”. Exhibitions as well as representation through galleries are rated according to a complicated points system. “Only artists operating in established structures”, says Artfacts, “will be chosen as a primary value source.” Such ratings have nothing to do with creativity and aesthetic quality. Young artists tend to be the exception in these lists, and one searches in vain in the upper echelons for filmmakers who present their work at film festivals or the cinema.

Reinhard W. Wolf

The magazine Capital is published by Gruner + Jahr, Hamburg http://www.capital.de/guide/kunstmarkt-kompass
Artfacts.Net Ltd has its headquarters in London and is published in five languages

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