Memo July 2011


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in July 2011

Rain, wind, 18 Cº, what a summer here these days. No wonder there is less than average optimism in this memo. 

Eyeing new trends

With regard to cultural policies in the member states, inhibition reigns in Brussels – not so in Strasbourg. A paper with the stimulating title The impact of the new nationalism and identity politics on cultural policy-making in Europe and beyond was put on the agenda of the Bureau (the administrative top) of the Steering Committee for Culture (CDCULT) at their latest meeting in July. Going so deep into cultural policy principles is customary at the Council of Europe, and alien to the non-interference subsidiarism of the European Union.

The seven-page analysis ends with straightforward propositions to identify cultural policy practices that seem problematic according to the core values of the Council of Europe – and even to monitor ways of rectifying mistakes! New nationalist cultural policy makers in Europe need not worry though: the document figured on the agenda as “other business” and “for information” only.

Statistics of success and failure

UK’s (and Geoffrey’s) EUCLID International dived into the tables of the European Commission for data on the output of the 35 eligible countries for funding in the frames of the five accomplished years of the Culture Programme. The indicators showed that cultural organisations from Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.have proved – from various points of view – to be the most successful.

The most intriguing indicator is perhaps success rate. For the 449 winning projects between 2007-2011 altogether 1634 proposals were submitted, producing an overall success rate of 27.5%. Five countries (small and big) have achieved over 40%, but only one of them got over 50% – in fact as high as 62.5% of their submitted projects have won financial support. (In the absence of data, we could not calculate success rate at the BO analysis on Culture 2000.)

For more go to the web site.

Visual distress

Reviewing art fairs did not produce flattering news about east Europe. This time we re-visited Artfacts to see whether contemporary and modern visual artists from our region have improved their dismal position. Alas, on the contrary. In 2009 there were 18 living artists among the top 500 from east Europe, now 16 from practically the same ten countries (instead of Ukraine Bosnia was the 10th country then). This time only one of them, US-based Serbia-born Marina Abramovic is in top 100.

The ArtfactsNet rank list, based on the number, place and reception of exhibitions, has swelled to comprise over 218 thousand artists of the world, the majority of them alive. In order to check progress after a couple of years, here is a benchmark table:

ArtfactsNet rank list
July 2011

TOP 500

TOP 1000

East Europe (BO remit)

23 artists from 11 countries

5 PL, 4 RO, 3 HU, 2 AL BG SI, 1 HR LT RS SK UA

45 artists from 12 countries

11 PL, 6 RO, 5 LT, 4 HU RS,

East Europe in broad sense

32 artists from 14 countries

7 RU, 1 GR TR in addition to the above

66 artists from 15 countries

13 RU, 5 TR, 2 GR, 1 GE
in addition to the above

Living artists from the east

18 artists from 10 countries


34 artists from 11 countries

11 PL, 4 RS, 3 LT RO, 2 AL BG CZ HR SI UA, 1 SK

Living artists from the broader east

19 artists from 12 countries

1 GR in addition to the above

46 artists from 15 countries

5 TR, 4 RU, 2 GR, 1 GE
in addition to the above

Visual alternatives

We sought consolation in alternative rank lists. Kunstkompass exists since 1970, now administered by the German business magazines Manager. Importance and influence of the artists is measured by exhibitions, museum purchases and also art magazine reviews.

London based art watch ArtTactic ranks artists by “confidence”, distinguishing long-term and short-term, based on the opinion of a pool of art insiders.

In both cases access to the full top 100 list requires membership which BO is not. In the available press references no mention is ever made of any artist from east Europe.

Go positivist

Entirely different and fully objective is the approach of Artprice report on contemporary art sales released each year for FIAC (so the next edition is due in October). It operates with clear facts: revenues at auctions. Also contempariness is defined unambiguously: born after 1945, whether alive or dead. The analysis of the season between July 2009 – June 2010 is an entertaining and informative read. Its tone contradicts the apocalyptic vision of the crisis: “Unlike the 1990-1991 crisis when there was a serious freeze on art buying, the offer has adapted during 2008 and 2010 to the less favourable economic context. The market is just as deep as ever and is continuing its expansion, particularly towards the East.”

This east, however is not our east. If we disregard a nostalgic reference to Malevitch, the first name from east Europe occurs on page 65: Enki Bilal, 74th on the top 500 list was born in Belgrade. The €888 thousand turnover after his works consists of 271 pieces: no other artist sold more lots on the list. The only other name from our region is Romanian sculptor Remus Botarro, #451.

To extend the scope to the broader region, we find two Russians, a Georgian, a Greek – and eighteen Turks! Similarly astounding is the number of 139 Chinese artists on the top 500 of sales. 139 Chinese versus five from post-communist Europe!

The bestselling artist in 2009-2010, by the way, was Jean-Michel Basquiat, dead since 1988, with €31 million for 70 pieces. The highest single price for a lot belongs to a painting by Peter Doig, €6 million.

Rounding with a square

We shall round up the excursion to contemporary visual arts with a combined table of the tops of the latest leading rank lists (living artists only):



long-term confidence

short-term confidence


Bruce Nauman (US)

Gerhard Richter (DE)

Gerhard Richter (DE)

Gerhard Richter (DE)

Jeff Koons (US)

Gerhard Richter (DE)

Bruce Nauman (US)

Jeff Koons (US)

Anish Kapoor (UK, IN)

Peter Doig (UK)

Cindy Sherman (US)

Georg Baselitz (DE)

John Baldessari (US)

John Baldessari (US)

Richard Prince (US)

Ed Ruscha (US)

Cindy Sherman (US)

Robert Gober (US)

Cindy Sherman (US)

Damien Hirst (UK)

John Baldessari (US)

Anselm Kiefer (DE)

Richard Prince (US)

Robert Gober (US)

Zeng Fanzhi (CN)