The Shady Economics of Artists' Rise to Fame

What do you do when your craft suddenly gets sold for an amount you've never dreamed of, and yet have no control over? Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Nigerian artist whose paintings were selling for $3,000 just few years ago, have now commanded millions per painting through auctions. Now, her biggest challenge is to avoid the quick rise and fall other young artists who have suffered in a contemporary art market that churns through its favorites, as she is hoping to meet the demands of art collectors and over 20 public art museums who are on waitlist for artworks she hasn't even created yet. Although the artist was flattered that people bid on her work and paying as much as $3 million, however, she couldn’t shake the fear that she had lost control over her prices, even contacting buyers of her paintings to ask if they would be willing to hold on to her works or at least resell pieces privately, rather than at auction, to make sure her prices didn’t climb to levels she couldn’t sustain.

According to WSJ, four years ago, art collectors were clamoring for abstracts by Parker Ito, a young artist, tripling his auction prices to $94,000 in just a few months. Today, Parker Ito’s auction prices rarely top $5,000. Another artist, Sterling Ruby’s spray-painted abstracts, were commanding as much as $1.7 million four years ago, and last year, his works were auctioned for roughly a third as much.


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