The top living artists

June 8, 2009

What’s the wisdom of crowds when it comes to the greatest-living-artist question? After 1.4 million votes cast, mainly in the UK (so an English bias is unavoidable), the consensus seems to be:

  1. Jasper Johns
  2. Bruce Nauman
  3. Lucian Freud
  4. Richard Serra
  5. David Hockney
  6. Cy Twombly
  7. Cindy Sherman
  8. Jeff Koons
  9. Tracy Emin
  10. Damien Hirst

Tyler Cowen and I, last Thursday, spent very little time deciding that Jasper Johns and Gerhard Richter were #1 and #2 respectively; it didn’t take much longer to decide that Nauman was #3. So how come Richter doesn’t even crack the top ten on the Times/Saatchi list? Do people — even English people — really believe that Tracy Emin is a significantly better artist than Gerhard Richter?

Then again, the same poll puts Martin Kippenberger in the top 20 artists of the 20th Century, while Joseph Beuys languishes at #68, somewhere below Chaim Soutine. And Ed Ruscha — an easy top-10 on the living-artist list for both Tyler and me — doesn’t even crack the top 100 on this list; compare that to Hockney, at #33.

The other thing worth noting is the reputational market of Damien Murakoons. While Hirst and Koons are right next to each other in the low 50s on the list, Takashi Murakami is right at the bottom, at #190. (Warhol is at #8.) My guess is that the main difference here is how they did at auction — even if the pricetag on something like this is just as high as anything Hirst or Koons can command.

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