In the past decades, the art market has nourished its Hollywood-like image, filling it with big art, big names and big prices. Supported by financially driven gallerists and wealthy collectors, this situation is hardly a reflection of a greater reality. Although the many broadcasting channels will inevitably inform us about the latest stunts of Mr. Koons and the likes, the art market is, and will remain, a much broader framework. To a new art collector, the famous and the flashing may seem a tad intimidating, but we must never forget that the excitement of art buying stretches far beyond the fancy auction room. In fact, if we dare enter this hazy, dynamic field with an open mind, we may just find out that one of the most exciting areas is the one dealing with emerging artists and their growing careers.
“Emerging artists” is another stretchy term pertinent to the art market, implying a group of artistic creators who have reached a certain point in their professional development. But although they have gained some recognition, these creatives have not yet reached a high point in their careers. They are often young, frequently fresh-out-of-college individuals, but mid-career artists who are considered emerging are not a rarity either. While many of them show significant potential, not many of them will reach the highest top of success, and the majority will continue to build careers with financially moderate performance in comparison to the top sellers. Not that there’s anything wrong with moderation, many of these artists do create important and influential bodies of work, scoring once more against the interest-motivated market. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if it would be possible to discover the next star of the art world as a matter of prestige? Is this even possible, knowing that a star might one day fall? Well, like so many things related to the art market, recognizing a future success does not come with a clear recipe and it’s largely related to the experience and knowledge of the collector, seasoned with a bit of luck.
Recent years have shown greater numbers of emerging artists quickly rising to stardom and a lot of the art professionals agree that their role in the market has drastically changed. Many an art flipper went from rags to riches speculating in the emerging market, but this is a dangerous and not-at-all cultural endeavor. In an excellent article about the hyper-professionalization of the emerging artist, Daniel S. Palmer gives an example of Zombie Formalism and its representatives, as the style that became too popular too fast, today not only forgotten but also denounced in many ways. Those who bought and sold zombie-formalism works during the few years of its peak were in luck, but we cannot claim that this is, or will again be, the case with any other style. A keen art buyer should, therefore, look beyond the financial aspects and focus on what really matters.
For a person with little art market experience, this may prove to be a challenge. Occasionally, aggressive consultants or gallerists will give their best in coercing a person to purchase the latest trend of the art world. Such an experience can be educational, but in learning what to be aware of, since trends appear and perish, often not reflecting the lasting artistic value. Fashion is fleeting even in art and overnight successes should be approached carefully.
Artists that tend to leave a lasting mark in art history have sustainable careers, built more slowly over time, and a proven track record of exhibitions and collection purchases. They stay faithful to their interests and explore their ideas to the fullest. If caught in the affordable phase, their work might not pay off quickly, but in a wider context – it will prove itself much more valuable than a hot buy.
A prudent approach in seeking out the right emerging artist requires more than just interest. Having a conversation or visiting a studio of a creative is generally a good place to start, but there is a number of details to look into. First of all, art education might show an original career intent of the artist in question. If their education is complete or advanced, this may be a good sign, but sometimes a school they went to may be an indicator of a well-developing career as well. Secondly, their exhibition history should be of interest. If they have shown their work at all, it’s good to know where and in what capacity. What may be more important than a line of gallery shows is a public exhibition curated by a museum or a larger foundation. If an artist is selected to appear in such a group show, it means their work is starting to get recognized for its quality. Finally, every keen emerging art explorer might want to take media coverage with a pinch of salt. The majority of new media is either focused on local scenes, or influenced by trends, so if a name of an interesting artist shows up online or in print, this does not mean they are instantly a hit. On the contrary, there might still be a hidden gem somewhere outside of the public eye, waiting to be discovered. In the end, keeping connections with other collectors with shared interest may prove to be a great source of information and an indicator for future tendencies in collecting.
To Recognize Lasting Value in Emerging Art
Knowing that building an artistic career requires long-term dedication and effort, there are several things to consider in searching for a meaningful art purchase. It’s necessary to assess the artist’s work, but also personality, attitude, and talent. Learning about their past achievements and work is necessary. With many insights into the artist’s medium of choice, commitment, geographic context, and achievement record, it will be easier to make an informed decision, even though the first collector’s instinct should be to approach the art without prejudice.
When seeking an artwork worth your money, finding the person whose work is fresh and unique, standing out from the trends or pleasantries is crucial. Dedicated artists who take risks and welcome challenges, whose visual language shows a continuous development, who do not stagnate, who are serious about art as their livelihood, who have certain evidence of academic or professional accomplishment (even from the art school period), and who may be well-received by a small number of art professionals are usually the best ones to invest in. Of course, all of these traits fluctuate as much as the artists do, but the essentials can be applied to all – graduates, early or mid-career creatives. Age is not important when it comes to recognizing a star, while many artists studied late and many others flourish later in life. Remember Henri Rousseau, an icon of post-impressionism, who only started exhibiting in his 40s, and let his example be your guide in keeping an open mind, along with your eye.
Yet, it may be of interest to think about the moment an emerging artist stops being emerging. Naturally, there is not one defining general point that can determine such a thing, and this transition is related to every single artistic career separately. A label that follows the one of emerging is ‘mid-career artist’, another category that has nothing to do with age. A mid-career artist is a creative who has created a notable body of work over through a consistent activity over the years and received national and critical recognition for it. They should have participated in a significant number of exhibitions, both solo, and group, in both galleries and museums in different regions, showing appreciation of different curators. The length of this mid-career period is unspecified, and for some – it can last throughout a career. It’s important to know that many so-called mid-career artists never achieve advanced recognition not due to the quality of their work, but due to a number of circumstances they cannot influence – from insufficient media coverage to the lack of high-profile curation.
The highest stage in this loose categorization would be the status of an ‘established artist’. Only a handful of artists in the world are able to reach this level of recognition, as it entails international acclaim and appreciation for individual contribution to the arts. Of course, this acknowledgment needs to be backed up by a line of solo and group exhibitions in significant institutions and an impressive body of work. Every emerging artist has a chance to rise to this level, but there are many different factors playing a role in their development. What a collector should look is a broader picture, bearing in mind the potential of an author while keeping their hopes under control.
Focus on Your Collection as a Whole
A vast majority of art collectors agree that they are not in it for the money. Many of them wealthy, they show sincere appreciation for the arts by supporting a large number of artists in different ways. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to say that their collections don’t become more valuable over time, especially if carefully curated. Therefore, focusing on a collection as a whole is something an emerging art collector should also do, regardless of their budget.
Selecting the right artists to purchase is the crucial step in collecting. In the emerging art world, there might be an extra challenge because of the momentary invisibility of these creatives, but this can also be seen as the thrill. There are many examples of collectors throughout history who managed to accumulate influential collections or art or design, having started purchasing relatively unknown or cheap pieces in their youth. One of the most famous examples of such a collector is Peter Brant, the founder of The Brant Foundation, who started collecting art in college. Coincidentally, his first purchases involved two Warhols and a Franz Kline, while he continued socializing with the art crowd since. Today, his collection is considered one of the best Andy Warhol collections in the world.
Nevertheless, it may be really difficult to spot a today’s Warhol before anyone else, especially with the continuous influx of new faces in every corner of the art globe. But what we can learn from Mr. Brant is that a keen eye, true passion, and courage in art buying can pay off, especially if combined with constant circulations through local (or better, international) art world. Luckily, the world today is smaller than ever before and making contacts with artists worldwide is absolutely possible, even for a young collector with a limited budget.
Avoid the Traps on Your Star-Search
Even a collector armed with knowledge, contacts and a consultant can fall into a trap when searching for the ‘perfect’ artist. Avoiding these traps completely may be impossible, but there are some things every art buyer should know.
The first and the most obvious trap might be the internet. Getting the necessary information online is mostly useful, although it can be tricky. There are many media outlets that promote different emerging artists from time to time, but they collect their information in many different ways, often reflecting the state of the moment. Emerging artists they promote might not be the stars of the future if there is no more information about them anywhere else. Getting educated advice from curators or other collectors is the better way to go.
Art lovers are often prone to impulse purchases. Since these are always a bad idea, not only when it comes to art, it’s a wise move to keep your impulses in check, until you get your facts straight. Deeper the knowledge about the artist, lesser the chance to make a mistake.
Falling into the current trend is something we already mentioned, but there are larger cliches or superficiality in the art world that are best avoided. If an artist does not demonstrate a clear understanding of their own concept, if their style is incoherent and overly ‘likeable’ or ‘shocking’, he may not be worth it.
Ultimately, if an emerging artist has a representative or a gallerist – get to know them. Their reputation and education will show you if you’re on the right track while providing some security in buying. Prejudice is not your friend in the emerging art world, but the facts are – always keep that in mind.
Finding a Star at an Art Fair – Emerging Artists Who Made It
Committed to presenting the most interesting selection of emerging artists whose prices are still affordable, our trade fairs BERLINER LISTE and the DISCOVERY ART FAIRS COLOGNE and FRANKFURT have been enlightening the art scene for over a decade. Looking at recent editions only, we can find several artists whose first greater public appearance was at our fair and today they are true examples of success. What these authors have in common is their persistence in art production and presentation, and high quality of pieces they create. They have all entered the market as emerging artists, but today they are close or even at the peak of their careers, receiving acclaim from both buyers and critics.
One of the DISCOVERY ART FAIR’s favorites is definitely a wood sculptor, Edvardas Racevicius. In the past years he became a regular exhibitor at our fairs in Berlin and Cologne, today represented by a number of established galleries throughout Europe. To this day, Edvardas did not stop producing art, showing no oscillation in quality.
Next, Katharina Arndt, a former exhibitor, first presented her “SHOP THE PAIN AWAY” artwork series at our Cologne fair in 2015. Earlier this year, the same piece was a part of a larger exhibition, hung next to the Andy Warhol’s “Uncle Sam”.
Spanish-born Berlinian, Emilio Fornieles exhibited in Berlin in 2014 and in Cologne the year after. Recognized by the Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago, he is an example of a true artist who lets his art grow and speak for itself, while acclamations naturally follow.
Finally, Katerina Belkina is a regular at European art fairs, having shown her work in Berlin in 2015 and in Cologne in 2016. Her photographic style is resemblant of realism in painting, highly aestheticized and filled with numerous art-historical and cultural references. She was the nominee of the prestigious Russian Kandinsky Prize and a recipient of the Hasselblad Masters Prize for fine art photography.
As examples, these four artists can serve as inspiration for all the collectors passionate about emerging artists today, proving that it is possible to uncover a future success if you search well enough. During the search, focus on the quality of work and not necessarily the name. Stay aware of your own collection or a collection you wish to build, and imagine how a particular piece would fit in it. Envisage the potential of your art becoming influential in the future while you curate it. This way, you will not make a mistake, even if one of your emerging artist discoveries doesn’t become exceedingly famous.
If we agree that one of the best ways to start a collection is definitely an art fair promoting affordable art, then every upcoming edition of the DISCOVERY ART FAIR must find itself in your calendar. We welcome your curiosity!