Art Market Watch: The Whitney Biennial Effect

Artsy Collecting
Mar 7, 2014 3:24PM

As throngs of museumgoers make their way through the three floors of this year’s triple-pronged Whitney Biennial over the coming weeks, the more market-savvy collectors among them will be paying close attention to the conversation-starters—which of the relatively unknown artists are making an impact and generating interest, strong indicators of those whose careers will be launched by the biannual taste-making exhibition. Late in 2013 Joshua Rogers, writing for Forbes, offered this advice to art market prospectors: “in mid-November, the contemporary art world waits breathlessly for the list of American artists whose work will be featured in one of its most prestigious events: the Whitney Biennial. You want a hot tip? Figure out now which American artists will be on that list of names.”

Among the hundreds of artists to have exhibited at the Whitney Biennial are the now-iconic Barbara Kruger, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Jenny Holzer, Claes Oldenburg, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Cindy Sherman, and with his debut in the first-ever Whitney Biennial in 1932 (then in its earlier, annual iteration), Edward Hopper’s career was springboarded. After analyzing the before-and-after sales figures associated with recent biennial artists, Rogers claims it’s the emerging artists that benefit the most, and estimates that about 75% of the relatively unknown artists featured in the Whitney receive a substantial sales boost, noting the particularly meteoric rise in the career of Theaster Gates following his inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial.

Another beneficiary of the Whitney Effect, R.H. Quaytman enjoyed acquisitions and inclusions in major museum shows including MoMA, Guggenheim, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts on the heels of her appearance in the 2010 Whitney show, and her silkscreens and paintings now fetch six figures. Others artists to have benefitted from recent biennials include Pae White and Oscar Tuazon. This year the show features (as has become standard practice) both the established, such as Sheila Hicks and the late Terry Adkins, and the emerging, like Dashiell Manley, Tony Lewis, and Elijah Burgher. Inclusion in the Whitney isn’t a guarantee to a slice of the art market, though; there are many others for whom the biennial has marked a career peak. As Rogers notes, “For every [Theaster] Gates, there are unknowns who flame out after appearing in the Biennial.”

Explore the Whitney Biennial on Artsy.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019