James Tarmy had one of his usual smart takes on the art market last week with a story on the ways in which artists whose works are featured in the Whitney Biennial tend to see their work on the market soon after. Most of the action is in the day sales. But, as Tarmy points out, some of those artists who get a pop from the biennial go on to have valuable secondary markets.
Such is the case with Christopher Wool whose work from the 1989 biennial is being sold by the original buyer’s heirs. Tarmy cautions not to read too much into that case of survivorship bias:
Wool’s work took decades to reach those prices. While some of the Whitney- anointed artists might be the subjects of post-Biennial enthusiasm, “for Henry Taylor, I see it more as a steady climb over the last two years,” said Charles Moffett, the co-head of Sotheby’s day sale. “If you look at the works that have come up at auction, there’s been a pretty decent interest and incline in prices achieved, but not across the board. It’s not all fireworks.” […]
“If you go back to past biennials and auctions, you can see it’s a pattern that constantly repeats itself,” said Levin, the adviser. “It’s important to remember that the interest they generate is, in almost all cases, short-lived.”
It is also worth noting, though, that the market trajectory from emerging to blue chip isn’t a straight line or even, really, a trajectory (which suggests a single explosive launch followed by a long decaying arc.) Instead, markets see ups and downs. Tastes change; memories fade; the familiar becomes strange, then fresh or refreshed.
Indeed, although market troughs can be painful for those who bought at higher levels, they do serve an important role in generating new momentum for an artist.