Wooden crates being screwed open, nails being tapped into freshly built walls, and gallery directors instructing installers are the sounds heard in the anxious days before the Miami art fairs open to VIPs and the public. Collectors, curators, and the culturally aware will soon be critiquing the works and sharing their views on social media. Art fairs—especially the heavily attended events promoted by Frieze and Art Basel—have become laboratories where it’s possible to measure taste preferences for different types of art by analyzing the Instagram posts of fairgoers.
Instagram is a daily (okay, hourly) obsession for many art lovers. From ’s selfies
to Brett Gorvy
’s stream of beautiful images, frequently accompanied by delicious insider gossip and music tracks, Instagram serves up endless visual images to half a billion people around the world who use it daily. These posts are a treasure trove of information that can be used to identify artworks that intrigue, shock, or inspire people.
But rather than simply counting the number of “likes” an image receives, we believe a better measurement of a work’s impact is to assess how people react to art they viscerally connected with after seeing it in person. Toward that end, we have been aggregating Instagram posts by visitors to the world’s top art fairs, using this data to create refined measures of popularity that we can compare over time. Our first article
on this topic analyzed posts from the 2017 edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach. This article is focused on results from the recent Frieze Week in London, and the June edition of Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland.
There were noticeable differences between fairgoers’ favorites. At Frieze, the 10 most Instagrammed works were by mid-career and older artists, who tended to eschew abstraction in favor of text-based or figurative work that could easily fit into a city-sized apartment or suburban home. These artists were almost evenly split between men and women, showcasing the rising role and importance of female artists. But at Art Basel, the most Instagrammed works tended to be huge, conceptually laden installations only suitable for purchase by extremely wealthy collectors with their own private exhibition spaces to fill, or perhaps an institution looking to provide visitors with an immersive experience.
A quick note on methodology: We created a database of all Instagram posts made with geolocation and/or relevant hashtags indicating that the user attended Frieze Week in London this October, and a similar database for Art Basel in Basel. Eliminating selfies and other extraneous images yielded approximately 66,000 images, which we then ran through an artificial intelligence tool designed and optimized for art, to separate pictures of the same artwork into groups. This special tool was developed by Artrendex
, a New York–based technology startup of which Ahmed Elgammal is founder and CEO. An example of how the algorithm classified different Instagram pictures as being the same artwork is shown in Exhibit 1.
Once classified, we then ranked ordered artworks based on the number of Instagram posts they received, with each image posted counting as one vote. We believe this is more grounded in the actual art-viewing experience than “like”-based measures, in which a post by Paris Hilton
from Art Basel could receive thousands of “likes” from people who never saw the art.