Portmanteau Commentary: A look at ArtNet Analytics Top 100 Artists List

Taking a closer look at the Top 100 Living Artists list by ArtNet Analytics, some points of interest jumped at me immediately. Firstly, this is a list of top EARNING living artists. Let's get that value placement of what "top" means for this list clearly defined and out of the way. It's certainly not talking about influence, versatility, critical reception, fame, or beauty. So, with money and market, the two least likeable aspects of art, let's look at what can be sociologically gleamed.


Traditional Chinese Art
It's fascinating to observe that traditional Chinese painting makes up a big bulk of the list, and yet that it is often difficult to find in depth information about the painters - whether on art sites, in archives, and even on wikipedia. It's always nice to have it slapped in our faces with hard numbers how utterly westernised the internet is, and that luckily, money talks loudly enough to show that at least the art market, if not the information about it, is decidedly Chinese.

Black Artists
Also notable is the ridiculously small number of black artists (four, to be precise, which is anger-inducing), all of them American. I liked this list by culturetype.com, whose top listed artists can be found on this list by ArtNet. Julie Mehretu is the only black female artist on the list (I discuss her in a separate section but really, it's an intersectional situation).

American painter Mark Bradford on 58 ($37,744,425) makes an appearance on the ArtNet list with his textured and layered collage paintings.

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Committed to the civil rights and Black Power movements, and distinctively avoiding a specific style of art (ranging from snowball selling to bruce-nauman-like light chandeliers) American artist David Hammons is at 76. ($27,428,573).

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We can also find the artist whose conceptual paintings grace a White House wall, American Glenn Ligon at 82. ($24,947,368).

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Female Artists
I'm of course not surprised to see just how underrepresented female artists are when it comes to top market and monetary value. Still, on this list of one hundred there are nine women. Nine.

The first female artist on the list appears at place 6. ($205,821,658), the wonderful Japanese feminist, minimalist pop-artist Yayoi Kusama.
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The next female artist pops up in place 31 ($77,023,822): American Photographer Cindy Sherman; who is a bit random, I personally feel. I saw her photography at Tate Modern's "Performing for the Camera" exhibition a few days ago, and although I can acknowledge her importance, I much preferred the range of self-expression and questioning of gender roles and identity in the photo booth series by Tomoko Sawada (who's not on the list I'm currently discussing, but I don't care).

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Chen Peiqiu can be found on 41 ($60,740,416), which I take extra pleasure in (from the point of view of this sparse presence of female artists) because her artist husband Xie Zhiliu isn't listed. On the Hurun Art List (Top 100 Chinese Artist) with a "whole" of three female artists, she is ranked the highest. There's also Xu Lele (who can be found on 88 in the ArtNet list I'm discussing) and Yu Hui, who's newly listed on 100.
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Also female and on this ridiculously but unsurprisingly male list is Ethiopian-American large-scale, multi-elements painter Julie Mehretu a massive jump later on 81 ($29,232,967), who is also the only black woman and, as far as I'm aware, the only lesbian on the list. (Let's take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous and adorable she is. .. ... .... ..... ...... ....... ........ Yes? Okay, moving on.)

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With her new-yet-traditional, somewhat caricature-like thematic choices which are yet thoroughly traditional in painting method, which propelled her value by 3000% in four years: Chinese artist Xu Lele is on 88. ($26,074,585).
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The British optical artist Bridget Riley, one of my personal favourites pieces of work on the list, is in place 90. ($23,169,248).

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Ahh, Cady Noland. Much in demand, still at large, the notoriously and bitterly camera-shy American-critical artist is still to be found on this list at 97. ($21,146,132).

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In stark contrast, Latvian-American photorealistic painter Vija Celmins follows right on her the heel at 98. ($20,369,979) with her monochromatic depictions of natural elements.

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I was surprised yet happy to see the American Tauba Auerbach on 100. ($22,780,707) because I categorised her as a designer, though I should have known better. I'm still combing through my brain to try and remember which exhibition in which city it was that I saw her rainbow book.


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What does it mean, though?
I firmly sit at the table which makes the argument that what is considered true art is subjective - the value placed upon a piece of art is personal in taste, association and aesthetic. But there are also two other categories I consider: art of historical importance, which has shifted the landscape of art or/ and general humanity in some way; and that third category which I much despise: the investment, where value is derived purely from monetary market value, just like a pile of literally anything that can be traded for money. I'm much too obsessed with aesthetics and meaning to like giving the third category much thought, usually.

But there are sociological patterns that can be observed in numbers, from which truth that can be derived, and awareness eventually, hopefully change reality. As skewed and manipulated as numbers can be, they do talk as logically, and the market of the art world is pretty clear in terms of its 'monetary value gap'.

Be aware of it, make an effort to be interested in and show support for people other than white men, even if many of them create some of our favourite art, because those will be a majority of the repertoire no matter what you do.

Here's the whole list, take a look:
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