The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Contemporary Art Prices

Robert Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This essay demonstrates how market prices for contemporary art flourished in the late nineteenth century, fell after 1900, and rose again in the 1960s. This discov- ery stands in contrast to previous twentieth-century art market studies, which have depended on the sales prices achieved by modernist and avant-garde artists. The art- ists who were financially successful before 1900 have been dismissed as commercial or academic. Arguing for the importance of high-end sales, the paper mostly relies on the primary and secondary premium sales data belonging to the Paris gallery founded by Adolphe Goupil and the New York gallery founded by Michael Knoe- dler. Using CPI to convert prices over time, premium sales prices for Old Master, Near Contemporary, and Contemporary Art are compared over a ninety-year period, from the 1860s to the end of the 1950s. Among the discoveries yielded by these data is how close prices for contemporary art matched prices for Old Master paint- ing until the very end of the nineteenth century. The data also indicates that many more contemporary artists benefited from high prices during the nineteenth century than later living artists achieved until late in the twentieth century. What appears to have contributed to the rise and fall and rise again of contemporary art prices is the corresponding rise and fall and rise again of interest in contemporary art by super- rich collectors. An international market fueled by such collectors appears have been essential in creating high prices for contemporary art.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Cultural Economics
StatePublished - Jul 22 2022


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