But how do you know whom you should be buying?
The gallerist, quant trader and data scientist behind ArtRank.com can tell you.
Using a proprietary algorithm, the art fund the trio operated for 16 months through the spring of 2013 helped net them a 4,200% return, according to Carlos Rivera, the gallerist, venture capitalist, and only member of the group authorised to speak on the record about the project.
The formula has four main components:
- Market Saturation (number of works extant)
- Social media presence
- Market Support
- Auction performance
Here’s the current ranking:
Zak Prekop, the 35-year-old Brooklyn-based painter (and brother of legendary underground Chicago rocker Sam Prekop) takes pole position. Rivera explained that Prekop has a large following on social media and hasn’t yet produced many works, but the ones he has created continue to sell well.
Lucien Smith, 24, meanwhile, just sold a painting for $US100,000. By ArtRank’s count, that means he’s peaking now.
“We track points of inflection,” Rivera said. “Once something sells for x-amount, people start to come out of the woodwork.”
But growth in the market for Jacob Kassay, 30, who is No. 4 on the liquidate list, has stalled. One of his works recently sold for just $US50,000, after a comfortable period in the six-figure range. If ArtRank is correct, it’s a sign of just how short the prime period for an emerging artist can be — just four years ago, BlouinArtInfo ran a piece called, “Through the Looking Glass: Behind Jacob Kassay’s Meteoric Auction Rise.”
Rivera explained the algorithm ultimately tracks the shape growth potential.
“If you buy a Jacob Kassay at $US100,000 now, there’s a chance it could sell for $US120,000 six months from now maybe. That’s quite optimistic. Whereas if you buy works from the under $US10,000 category, there’s a large potential for exponential returns.”
Kassay’s career may not be finished — it just means the growth market for his work is now likely to simply be linear instead of exponential. The same is true for Banksy, Rivera says.
By now you’ve probably realised that such an algorithm can be used in other ways. As a venture capitalist, Rivera is keenly aware of this too, and he says the trio are actively exploring expanding their offerings to more mainstream consumer products. For now, their main source of profit is selling early access to updated tables.
“We’re looking at how a corporation that isn’t necessarily as large as Nike, but wants to know whether green or red shoes will be more popular, what can be created in service of that.”
The website is highly polarising: One gallerist we spoke with currently representing a top-ranked artist in ArtRank’s “buy now” category would not let us run an image of the artist’s work for this post, saying he didn’t wish to be associated with it in any way. Rivera acknowledges that gallerists have proved hostile, and that they changed the site’s original name, “Sell You Later, to ArtRank to avoid further inflaming parts of the art crowd.
“There was a collector who said we should be put in front of a firing squad,” Rivera said.
But he explained that the artists themselves — at least the ones in the “buy now” category — have mostly given the site the ok, since it gets them exposure.
And wealthy collectors dig it too.
“What we’ve seen is popularity among a large portion of those doing early access, whose sport is finding an artist before he sells for a million dollars.”
For now, the site also only tracks living, emerging artists, to take advantage of the prevailing phenomenon of virality. But that’s likely to change, Rivera says, given the larger data set for deceased artists and masters.
Rivera also cautions that the site should not be the sole premise on which to make a transaction. “You should use this and use your own taste — it should only be used as a guide, to check out an artist’s trajectory.”