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In The News

Museums Are Angry About Trump’s Withdrawal From UNESCO—But What Does It Really Mean?

Experts say museums will not experience major upheaval, but they do fear that the Trump administration's decision will diminish UNESCO's influence.

Some of the most prominent cultural figures in the US, including the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the president of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, swiftly expressed their opposition to the US government’s decision to pull out of UNESCO. The move, announced yesterday and expected to go into effect at the end of next year, is viewed by many in the cultural sector as yet another example of the Trump administration’s isolationist policies. But experts say the move, which comes after years of strained relations between the US and UNESCO, is more symbolic than anything else.

The Met’s president Daniel H. Weiss said in a rare statement yesterday that the decision “undermines the historic role of the United States as a leader” and “weakens our position” in cultural heritage preservation and international education. “Although UNESCO may be an imperfect organization, it has been a… steadfast partner in this crucial work,” he said.

Jim Cuno, the president of the Getty Trust, noted in a statement that “we were disappointed to hear about the US decision” and praised the organization’s “important work protecting the world’s cultural heritage.”

 

It’s been an eventful few days for UNESCO, which is dedicated to literacy, human rights, and heritage preservation. Soon after the US announced its decision to withdraw, Israel followed suit. Today, UNESCO elected a new director-general, Audrey Azoulay, France’s former culture minister, to replace Irina Bokova, who has led the organization since 2009.

Despite the political implications of the US’s decision, cultural heritage experts say it will not fundamentally alter the existing landscape—at least not right away. The US has not provided any funding to UNESCO since 2011 and has not been a voting member of its central decision-making body since 2013. Regardless of the withdrawal, the country remains bound by the UNESCO conventions that govern the protection of cultural heritage and the exchange and acquisition of ancient artifacts.

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The ‘Winner Takes All’ Art Market: 25 Artists Account for Nearly 50% of All Contemporary Auction Sales

Here's why the market is as top-heavy as ever—and what it means for the future

Just 25 artists are responsible for almost half of all postwar and contemporary art auction sales, according to joint analysis by artnet Analytics and artnet News. In the first six months of 2017, work by this small group of elite artists sold for a combined $1.2 billion—44.6 percent of the $2.7 billion total generated by all contemporary public auction sales worldwide.

Our findings quantify what many market-watchers have long observed: As increasingly wealthy buyers compete for a shrinking supply of name-brand artists, the art market has become highly concentrated at the top. Nevertheless, the reality—that the work of just 25 artists generated almost as much money at auction as the work of thousands of other artists combined—may be even more extreme than some realized.

Winner Takes All

“The contemporary art market is a good example of a ‘winner-takes-all’ market, where a very small proportion of artists is responsible for a very large market share, and a very large proportion has a very small market share,” says Olav Velthuis, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. The same phenomenon is evident among athletes, actors, and musicians, he notes.

The list of the most profitable 25 artists includes blue-chip Pop and Abstract

Expressionist names like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Cy Twombly, as well as living artists like Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, Christopher Wool, and Mark Grotjahn. The only women to make the list were Agnes Martin and Yayoi Kusama.

(We defined “postwar and contemporary” as works created after 1945 and based our analysis on prices supplied to artnet’s database by 420 auction houses worldwide in the first half of 2017. The data set includes 70,507 works offered for sale during this period.)

The top-heaviness is more extreme this year than last. In the equivalent period in 2016, the top 25 artists accounted for 37.4 percent of all postwar and contemporary auction sales, according to our data—7.2 percent less than this year, but still a dramatically outsize proportion of the total.