Memo January 2015


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2015

The visit to Brafa has changed our mind.


Thanks to Giannalia and Ugo we could mingle with the rich and beautiful at the late opening evening at Brafa, Brussels Art Fair. The experience has set the focus of this month’s newsletter on the art market. After 2009 and 2011 we observe the positions of east European visual art in the world. The picture is mixed – total failure on the one hand and advances on the other.

Good news first. ArtfactsNet is the most sophisticated data base of modern and contemporary fine arts. It contains the personal dossiers of nearly half a million artists from Warhol and Picasso to lesser known names by the tens of thousands. See the profile of the highest ranking east-central European (Serbian) artist’s dossier for a sample. 

One would assume that due to the two hundred thousand or so newcomers – especially from far away countries – to the list since we last checked it artists from our region have lost position but the contrary happened. With regard to east-central Europe (BO remit) instead of the 34 living artists among the top 1000 in 2011, the latest list contains 45. Every third is a Pole who have confirmed their lead in our region. Spectacular is the advance of artists from Romania (then 3 now 8) and Bosnia (then zero now 3). (Because of a Slovak-Romanian artist couple the number of countries in the top 1000 grids is in fact 46.) 

Still part of the good news is that in 2009 no-one before the 276th artist on the list did actually live and work in the home country. Now there are eleven such artists before the 276th position from 134th Żmijewski to 272nd Balka.


Artists seeking international fame and opportunities take part in art shows and exhibitions normally in association with commercial galleries. Exhibitions, biennales are curated, entry is determined according to quality, to the concept of the show and of course through contacts. Some of the art fairs apply curators but more typically money, the fee for a stand is the main filter.

Large numbers of artists are taken care of by western galleries but the role of eastern galleries is crucial too. At the bottom you will find our collection of east European galleries at the latest (2014 or 2015) editions of leading contemporary art fairs.

We found 59 galleries on 91 stands at these 17 European art fairs from 11 countries from our region plus 3 from further east. Thirteen of them came from Poland, eleven from Romania and Hungary each; six only from Russia which was a surprise. 17 galleries (out of the 59) appeared twice and 3 three times. As often as four times was Gallery On The Move from Tirana, Ani Molnár from Budapest, and a gallery well entrenched in the west: established in Ljubljana, Gregor Podnar’s main contact is Berlin.   

It is a privilege to exhibit at FIAC, Frieze or in Basel; the similarly prestigious Art Cologne is more open towards the east. As the numbers prove, Vienna Contemporary is the most hospitable towards art from Eastern Europe.    


Fairs are about selling. With this we have reached the darker pages of the story. When it is about sales and money, east-central Europe does not exist. Here is an analysis of the art market by a top business consultancy, and Artprice publishes its report each year. Indeed, not a line, not a word about us in either of these volumes. Even Russia is modestly represented.

ArtfactsNet is the most sophisticated data base – but the Artprice list is the biggest with more than 580 000 names. The main emphasis is on prices achieved at auctions. See the profile of the highest ranking east-central European artist’s dossier for a sample of this system (Adrian Ghenie from Romania) and see our miserable positions on the rank list (almost half of the 500 best selling artists in 2014 were Chinese).

Antiques, classics and pre-war modern art used to dominate auctions. The analysis mentioned above tells us however that the share of contemporary art has reached 44% at Christie’s and Sotheby’s by 2013, especially in China. The Mecca of the art market is nevertheless still Maastricht.


We finish with the actual champions on the same rank lists that BO presented four years ago:



Galleries from east Europe at major European art fairs in 2014-2015