Writing for “In Other Words,” Sotheby’s newsletter, specialist Bernard Lagrange drew on data from Artnet and the Mei Moses index to analyze whether solo museum shows boost an artist’s market. The research looked at every solo exhibition since 2002 at the five top museums in the United States, tracking the change in price for repeat sales of the same work by the exhibited artist before and after their big show. One might expect a solo show to boost the price of an artist two years after the exhibition, and thus see a higher return on a repeat sale. But it is not so simple.
Our analysis shows that this actually was not the case with Impressionist and Modern exhibitions, after which there were lower returns: on average 8.1% before exhibitions and 6.3% afterwards. The returns were lower for thematic shows than retrospectives: a decline of 2% compared with a decline of 1%.
Average returns were higher after contemporary art exhibitions—albeit only slightly (11.4% before and 12.1% afterwards). There was around 3% difference between the impact of retrospectives and thematic exhibitions: there was a 2.2% increase following survey shows and a 1.3% decrease following thematic exhibitions.
One of the interesting case studies cited in the article is that of the market for Christopher Wool, which began seriously buzzing following the 2012 announcement of a forthcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim museum. That boosted the overall annual dollar figure for Wool work, as pieces flooded the market, with collectors cashing in and other collectors purchasing a hot artist expected to get hotter. But the overall median compound rate of return after the exhibition actually decreased, Lagrange notes, “falling from 31% before the exhibition opening to 28% after.”
Ultimately, the impact of a major show on an artist’s market depends on numerous variables, including timing, location, and the artist themselves. As Lagrange writes:The calculation for market success following major exhibitions is a complicated one. When the venue is right + when an exhibition is staged at the right moment + when the market is neither flooded or deprived of supply + when the curation provides clarity + when an artists’ reputation is either forged or revitalized = the possibility that exhibitions can lead to tangible increases in an artist’s market. If one or more of these factors is off, the effects can be negligible or negative.