What determines the value of an artwork?
The nature of the work:
The first thing to consider is the nature of the work—in other words, its medium and size. For example, sculptures tend to be more expensive than paintings, which in turn are more expensive than works on paper. Unique works on paper such as drawings, collages or watercolours are generally worth more than multipleprint works such as photographs.
It’s also important to bear in mind that print editions for photographs tend to be small (3-15 prints), whereas editions for other types of prints, such as silkscreen works or etchings, are generally higher (20 or more prints are common). The edition size affects the price; the larger the edition, the less expensive the work.
The dimensions of the work also influence its value, but to a lesser degree. Works by the same artist will range in price according to their size.
The artist’s career:
Another aspect to consider is the artist’s professional background. A CV provides several valuable clues about the artist’s career and practice. It includes a list of solo and group exhibitions, the institutional and corporate collections to which the artist’s works belong, residencies, and a list of grants or awards received. The CV also indicates whether the artist’s work has been reviewed in the press or featured in publications. It is always available on the gallery website and the artist’s personal website.
Bear in mind that, in the case of many exhibitions, the work has undergone a rigorous selection process by a jury of peers—a competitive process that is also the norm for grants and residencies. The acquisition of a work by a museum is a prestigious form of recognition. The same is true for corporate collections, where works are selected by a curator—a professional whose principal mandate is to manage, build and showcase the company’s artistic assets.
One should also consider the artist’s experience. Generally speaking, the longer the artist’s career, the more valuable the works. An artist who is starting out (often referred to as a new or emerging artist) generally has less than 10 years of practice. A mid-career artist has more than 10 years of experience, and an established artist has over 20 years of practice.
Although these are approximate measures, they will help you to better appreciate the artist’s experience and to compare his or her prices with those of artists at a similar stage in their career. You may want to keep this information in mind when visiting art fairs.