Memo January 2017


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2017

While you are reading this, the American president keeps dismantling the liberal democratic world order.

In the whale

Surrounded by the unusually cold Budapest weather outside, in the relative warmth of the whale (the Bálna),

delegates to the Culture Action Europe conference sought ways of meaningfully connect the three concepts in the name of their organisation.

Two marks

Two signs of strengthening position of visual artists from east-central Europe:

1.     A Pole is thought to be the second most influential person in the scene,

2.     A Romanian’s picture sold for a record price at one of the latest top auctions. 

Assessed ranking

Nevertheless Abramovic and Pinchuk, the two other easterners among the most powerful hundred next to Adam Szymczyk, have both lost positions.

The rank list of influential people in visual arts is devised with a variety of factors similar to those applied for ranking artists. Components are based on facts yet their combination leaves room for subjectivity.

The rank list of ArtFacts.Net is the largest with over 157,000 artists. The first five positions feature the very same five names (Warhol, Picasso, Nauman, Richter, Beuys) as two years ago but quite different from six years ago.

To BO’s joy, east-central Europeans are coming up. At the latest count 48 of them figured among the best 1000 modern and contemporary artists. The graph shows to what degree visual art in this region is dominated by Poles and Romanians.

The concurrent list of Art-Report applies a similar methodology to ArtFacts: artists are positioned fairly similarly, as shown with the east-central European top ten on the ArtFacts list:

  ArtFacts Art-Report
Marina Abramovic 41 72
Anri Sala 76 64
Alicja Kwade 160 255
Artur Zmijewski 186 221
Nedko Solakov 193 166
Mircea Cantor 223 252
Roman Ondák 225 216
Boris Mikhailov 236 233
Dan Perjovschi 253 209
Pawel Althamer 259 198


Art-Report has fewer names (over 63,000) but more mistakes. The Ukrainian Nikita Kadan is just inside the best 2500 – but what if combined with his alter ego as Mykyta? Zhana/ Janna/ Zhanna Kadyrova and Dóra/ Dorà/ Dora Maurer suffer even greater setback.

Market ranking

Markets use a one-dimension indicator expressed in money, usually US dollars. Despite occasional congruence the sales lists are fairly different from those discussed above. See top of the latest list of Artprice (over 650,000 artists!) by generated revenue, together with the highest ranking artists from east-central Europe.



Country of birth

Auction turnover (thousand USD)


BASQUIAT J-M (1960-1988)




WOOL Christopher (1955)




KOONS Jeff (1955)




PRINCE Richard (1949)




DOIG Peter (1959)








GHENIE Adrian (1977)




BILAL Enki (1951)




UKLANSKI Piotr (1969)








TARASEWICZ Leon (1957)




SASNAL Wilhelm (1972)



Ghenie’s participation at the Venice Biennale in 2015 propelled him to the 15th place here – but still outside the best 1000 at ArtFacts, where Bilal remains outside the best 25,000! Customers’ and critics’ views are closest about Uklanski and Sasnal.

Comparing top 500 at ArtFacts and Artprice, from east-central Europe we can find 22 and 6 respectively: critics value them higher than customers do. Quite the opposite to the Chinese case: we find 5 on ArtFacts and 188 (yes, 188) on Artprice top 500. 

Pinchuk ranking

A unique phenomenon in our region is the $100.000 Future Generation Art Prize of a Ukrainian tycoon, awarded every second year. Last time a young Angolan and a Colombian artist took the prize while three east Europeans won a $20.000 worth residence each; two of them were maltreated by Art-Report but acknowledged at ArtFacts: Kadan and Kadyrova.

This year only one of the 21 short listed candidates is from east-central Europe, a Ukrainian group (in addition to a Russian and a Georgian, from further to the east).

Credit Unesco

This newsletter has repeatedly felt respect for Unesco performance, implicitly or in open praise. On the occasion of the latest additions to the lists of intangible cultural heritage, BO expresses appreciation of the way the items are displayed - what an improvement since 2009. It is worth a visit:

Enter the menu page. Since carnival is coming up, let us browse with this word. From the 16 related entries the first European is a French carnival. The brief description is complemented with a video, a few photos and a substantial explanatory statement about the decision        

The deeper you dive in the list, the more dilemmas about specificity, cross-fertilisation and the like will emerge, but this is indeed the point.

There are three registers. On the standard representative list BO counted 367 entries, 17 on the list of “good practices” about safeguarding intangible heritage, and 47 cases require urgent intervention. The 414 items of the total are fairly evenly spread over the continents and regions of the world. Countries with the largest number of entries:

  • China - 40
  • Japan - 21
  • Korea - 18
  • Spain - 15
  • Croatia, France, Turkey - 14
  • Belgium, Mongolia - 13
  • India - 12

The Anglo-Saxon world is entirely absent. BO misses entries on the five o'clock tea or the western shootout duel.

Three cities


Two for Europe and one in the UK. Hopefully, this is not the pattern for 2023, to which for the time being Hungary and the UK have been designated.