Pricing Art: The History and Mystery of the Art World


Are we in the midst of an art world bubble? Experts will delve into the quantifiable aspects of the art world.

Anyone who's stepped foot into an art gallery or auction house knows that art doesn't come cheap. But have you ever wondered how art is priced? It can be a complicated and mysterious process, but it's one that's worth understanding if you're serious about collecting art. In this session, we'll explore the history and mystery of the art world to better understand how pricing works in both primary and secondary markets.

Primary Art Market Versus Secondary Art Market Pricing

Pricing artwork in the primary market (i.e., when it is first offered for sale by the artist or their gallery) is typically determined by a number of factors, including the artist's reputation, exhibition history, previous sales, and collector interest. All of these factors ultimately contribute to what is known as the artist's "resale value."

The price of a work of art in the secondary market (i.e., when it is sold by a collector or dealer after its initial sale) is typically determined by its realized price—that is, the actual price that the work sold for at auction or in a private sale. This figure is then used to calculate an estimated resale value for the work, which can fluctuate based on market conditions.

Art Market Trends

In recent years, there has been a surge in prices paid for works by female artists and artists from historically underrepresented groups. This trend was most evident where paintings by Joan Mitchell, Georgia O'Keffe and Yayoi Kusama set new world records for female artists in recent years.

Another trend that has emerged in recent years is an increased focus on provenance—that is, the history of ownership for a particular work of art. This information can be incredibly valuable in terms of establishing authenticity and determining value.

The prices paid for works of art can vary widely depending on a number of factors, from the artist's reputation to recent trends in the market. However, one thing remains constant: collectors need to do their homework before making any major purchases. With a little research, you can ensure that you're paying a fair price for a quality piece that you'll enjoy for years to come.

Join our experts as they discuss the more enigmatic forces at play when pricing art. As record-breaking auction prices grow less and less surprising, investors, collectors, and the media alike continue to fuel growth for the foreseeable future. Using price information from the mid 80’s through today, we will delve into the quantifiable aspects of the art world and discuss the more enigmatic forces at play.

Panel Discussion: Jane Borthwick, Claire Brown and Susannah Wilson

Jane Borthwick, the Managing Director of Ronald Varney Fine Art Advisors; Claire Brown, Associate of Business Development at Winston Art Group; and Susannah Wilson, Director of Strategy at Artnet, will explore:

  • The dynamics of pricing artwork in both primary and secondary markets
  • The importance of researching prices before buying art at galleries, auctions, or online
  • Recent trends in realized prices and lessons from history

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Jane Borthwick

Jane Borthwick is the Managing Director of Ronald Varney Fine Art Advisors. As a trusted art advisor and strategist, she specializes in the management of diverse and specialized collections. Jane advises families, private collectors, foundations and museums in creating strategies for initiating, building or dispersing art collections. She has handled the marketing and sales plans for the...

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Claire Brown

Claire Brown is Associate of Business Development at Winston Art Group, the largest independent art appraisal and advisory firm in the United States. Winston Art Group assists clients with appraisals for all purposes, advises clients on buying and selling works of art, and handles the management of clients’ collections. Winston Art Group’s 75 specialists cover all areas of fine and...

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Susannah Wilson

Susannah Wilson joined artnet in 2013 as the Director of Strategy, where she combines her expertise in the worlds of art and business. Previously, she earned her Honors Bachelor’s degree in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University and has experience in all sectors of the art market, including galleries, auction houses, and museums. She also spent three years at a boutique...

Meet the Expert