Nearly half of all U.S. art museums active between 2017 and 2021 focused mainly on less than five percent of a quarter of a million artists, ranging from those born at the start of the 20th century to those working today, according to a new survey.
The report, authored by art economist Clare McAndrew and published last week by UBS, laid out the U.S. cities which serve as the country’s main art hubs and market drivers. New York is home to the largest share of active art institutions, comprising 26 percent of the country’s total (including private and non-profit organizations). Los Angeles ranked second to the East Coast hub, account for seven percent, while San Francisco was number three, accounting for four percent.
The data shows that less than 20 percent of living artists and others who have been historically underrepresented are the subject of museum shows across the U.S. Using data provided by the tech company Wondeur AI, the report categorized artists into three buckets—”star,” “established,” and “emerging,” rankings that are based on the number of exhibitions they have been featured in and the profile of the institutions that hosted them.
“Star” artists, representing those with the strongest professional networks and who were most prominently showcased across the country, account for 4 percent—or 10,000— of the database’s names of artists. (The Wondeur AI database spans 250,000 artists born after 1900). Established artists represent 12 percent, while emerging artists make up 84 percent of the total.
According to the report, for 47 percent of U.S. museums that held exhibitions over the last four years, ‘star’ artists—that small 4 percent tranche of artists considered historically top tier—made up a larger focus of the museum’s showcases than their less established peers. (For those respective institutions, top names accounted for more than one third of the all artists whose work was showcased). Another 36 percent of museums surveyed concentrated on established artists and 17 percent on emerging or under-represented artists.
The greatest focus on emerging artists in the museum sector was in Chicago and Los Angeles, the report found, while New York showed a larger focus on top tier and established names. Still, curators leading New York and Los Angeles museums, the report said, were the highest risk takers in the country—meaning they have been willing to promote artists with less-established track records than their regional counterparts.
The gallery sector, even among the top blue-chip dealers, on the other hand, has expectedly been more prone to showcase artists across wider career benchmarks than institutions. 23 percent of galleries in the U.S. are focused primarily on star artists, while 41 percent are on established artists; and 36 percent on those who are emerging.
The report’s findings, McAndrew said in a statement, suggest that U.S. institutions tend to take a safer route in their exhibition programming than galleries, a long-present dynamic that McAndrew describes as, a “more conservative approach of museums who often rely more on the previous history of artists’ exhibitions to hedge their curatorial risks.”
Correction, 6/10/22, 5:18 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated that nearly half of all U.S. museum showcases were focused on 4 percent of modern and contemporary artists between 2017-2021. The article has been updated to reflect the correct metric that nearly half of all U.S. museums focused on 4 percent on modern and contemporary artists between that period.