Public Release: 

Success in art may depend on breaking into high-prestige networks

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Success as an artist may rely heavily on early access to high-prestige galleries and museums, a new study has found, highlighting the need to enhance inclusion of neglected works and artists, especially those who do not have easy access to high-tier institutions. One recommendation based on their findings, the researchers say, is the formulation of policies to "level the playing field," such as lottery systems or blind selection procedures that offer underrepresented artists access to high-prestige venues. Quality in art is almost impossible to quantify objectively. Rather, factors unrelated to the work itself, like display venues and the work's relation to art history, play key roles in driving the recognition and reputation of an artist. To better understand the entangled and often secretive webs of art transactions, Samuel Fraiberger and colleagues used data from the app Magnus to reconstruct the exhibition history of nearly half a million artists (excluding performance artists), and mapped out a massive network that captures the movement of art between institutions. The researchers found that the core of this network was a dense community of European and North American institutions with high prestige, determined by longevity, the artists exhibited, size and quality of exhibition space, and art fair participation. The farther an institution was from this core, the less prestige it held. Each cluster of institutions within the network almost exclusively exchanged artworks within its own tight-knit community (high-prestige institutions circulated their works to other high-prestige places). Fraiberger et al. also found that "high-initial reputation" artists - those whose first five works was exhibited in the top 20% institutions as defined by the network - had life-long access to high-prestige venues and reduced dropout rate. By contrast, artists starting at the edges of this network exhibited a high dropout rate, with only a handful ending their career in high-prestige territory. High-initial reputation artists also had twice as many exhibitions as low-initial reputation artists, and their work was traded 4.7 times more often at auctions that those of low-initial reputation artists, at maximum prices that were 5.2 times higher.

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