August 3rd, 2005


Let's rank the artiste plasticien contemporain!

I'm fascinated by the artist ranking system on the ArtFacts website. Art, like pop music, is pretty hard to quantify; you like what you like. Nevertheless, like any human activity in the real world, art does leave behind it a data trail, a "spime slime" (as Bruce Sterling might say). And the trail is quantifiable, rankable, chartable.

The ArtFacts data trail is concerned with attention, fame and exhibitions. Artfacts have devised an algorithm which ranks the 21,158 visual artists in their database according to where they're showing their work and how often they show. The ranking does not reflect financial value of the artist's work.

"Attention (fame) in the cultural world is an economy that works with the same mechanisms as capitalism," explains the ArtFacts site, citing Georg Franck's concept of 'the economy of attention'. "The artist ranking... orders artists by the professional attention invested in them. It provides the wider audience with a feeling for where a particular artist stands in the eyes of the professionals." The result? A series of nifty little graphs showing whether any given artist's reputation is soaring or crashing over time, plus a Top 100 "chart rundown" of the hottest artists, living and dead.

It goes without saying that the graphs and rankings have to be taken with a big grain of salt. But they're fun to look at, and I'm sure they do tell you something about how an artist is looking this year in the eyes of the art world. The charts really dramatize artists' careers, showing them plunging up and down like wild rollercoaster rides. I checked artists I've met in person and found that most of them had careers which were, in the eyes of ArtFacts' algorithm anyway, plummeting quite dramatically.

Here's Austrian conceptual artist Rainer Ganahl's profile, for instance. After a steep ascent to a peak in 2001 at 392 in the artist ranking (round about when I first met him in New York, incidentally, through art student friends), Rainer has plummeted like a stone and is now outside the top 1000 altogether. Should I send him a consoling postcard? Is he contemplating a career as a conceptual cab driver? Is he feeling this fall from grace in his personal life or would he reject the whole idea of ranking artists and their careers? I'm sure a lot of artists who might decry these charts in public consult them in private. There's something ghoulishly fascinating about them; some of these curves come across as strangely bitchy, considering they're generated by a machine. Ooh, look at yours, it's up and down like a bride's nightie!

The ArtFacts Top 100 is also fascinating. The Top 20 artists (dead or alive) this year are: Picasso, Warhol, Naumann, Klee, Richter, LeWitt, Polke, Beuys, Miro, Matisse, Bourgeois, Lichtenstein, Baselitz, Sherman, Kippenberger, Ruscha, Huyghe, Dali, Cattelan, Eliasson. The Top 20 living artists are: Nauman, Richter, LeWitt (wow, 70s conceptual art really is king right now!), Polke, Bourgeois, Baselitz, Sherman, Ruscha, Huyghe, Cattelan, Eliasson (just based on that one Tate installation!), Graham, Viola (yuk, sanctimonious humanist crap!), Fischli-Weiss (saw a great film by them recently, a rat and a mole climb a Swiss mountain), Gursky, Rauschenberg, Wall, Johns, Kelly, Bechers.

Naumann's success is startling, but I must admit I have seen his work everywhere in the last twelve months. I'm also pleased to see French artist Pierre Huyghe (the only work of his I can think of at the moment is the Japanese anime character he and Philippe Pareno bought the rights to, Annlee) and the Italian Maurizio Cattelan ranking so high. Generally speaking, though, and despite the fact that a Spaniard tops the list, the nationality to be if you want to be a successful artist is American or German. We don't find any British artists until we reach Douglas Gordon (bluebottle on glass, slowed down versions of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and Lang's "M") at 36. Takashi Murakami is the highest-ranked Japanese artist to appear. He's at 255, and declining gently after a peak in early 2002. (Caveat emptor: Matthew Barney, ranked surprisingly low here at 64, is categorized as a "Canadian artist". Surely some mistake?)

What's the name of that artist who paints Top 20 charts of artists' names on bars of bright colour? I wonder what his ranking is? He's probably falling, since I think I heard about him in Matthew Collings' series "This Is Modern Art", or possibly one of his books. But that was back in the 90s, and his schtick was kinda limited, so I doubt he's sustaining attention. Then again, having a limited schtick isn't always a guarantee that you'll go out of fashion. On Kawara (paints white dates on black canvas) seems to be doing okay. Oh, wait, no, he's at 234 and falling, apparently terminally.

Just for fun, I looked myself up on ArtFacts and was rather surprised to find I have an entry, though not a ranking. Wow, I really am un artiste plasticien contemporain! The entry is based on a single show, my LFL exhibition in 2000. The Zach Feuer show I held this year hasn't yet entered the database. When it does, there'll be two points, and with two points you can make a trajectory. Will my graph point up or down? I'll be checking ArtFacts' site next year, a razor in one hand, champagne in the other.