untangling the awkward relationship between art and money

A final word on Sam Leach’s Wynne Prize-winning entry

Here’s a nice, big slice of schadenfreude pie for those of you who are distressed to the point of distraction about Sam Leach’s Wynne-ing streak (pardon the pun – too good to resist).

I should point out that I don’t include myself in that grouping – no matter how you respond to his work, Leach’s victory poses some very interesting questions about what, exactly, constitutes ‘landscape’. But back to the steaming pile of schadenfreude – success in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes has little or no bearing on an artist’s long-term commercial prospects. During the course of my research, I’ve looked at all of the artists who might be classified ‘contemporary’ (still alive in 1990), who won one or more of the AGNSW prizes. Almost half of the 69 artists who won a single prize have no secondary (auction) market at all. Not a single auction sale. Nix. And these are not emerging artists who wouldn’t be expected to have established a secondary market yet. Most of these are well-established practitioners who won their prize decades ago.

Of the 26 artists who have won two or more of the prizes, the majority have average auction prices in their primary medium (in most cases – painting) that fall in the mid to low four figures (less than $5,000). This includes artists such as Judy Cassab, John Peart, and Salvatore Zofrea. Eric Smith, who won the most prizes (a total of eight), has an average auction price of $1,379. And, in the art market, the absence of demand in the secondary market translates to diminishing commercial prospects. Not that the dash for cash is necessarily foremost in the minds of most, or even many, artists. But you can comfort yourself in the knowledge that untold riches do not flow from a big prize as a matter of course.

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