The back room: trace the stars of the biennial

Every Friday, Artnet Pro News members get exclusive access to the back room, with our animated recap channeling only the week’s must-see information into nimble reading you’ll actually enjoy.

This week in the Rear bedroom: Biennial World vs. Art Market World, dealers fight for primacy in New York and Los Angeles, Louise Nevelson gets her due, and much more—all in 7 minutes of reading (1,595 words).


Top of the market

You can’t eat prestige

Neha Choksi, The repetition of the sun / In memory of the last sunset (2016). Commissioned by the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Courtesy of the artist and Project 88, Mumbai. Photo: Zan Wimberley

If you could somehow see every biennial or triennial over the past five years, what patterns would emerge? Which stars would shine the brightest?

These are the questions behind the Biennial Artist Projecta series of Artnet News on the stars of the biennial circuit. We looked at artist lists from 211 biennials and triennials held over the past five years to find out which artists have the most exposure.

The research revealed not only a surprising cast of high-profile figures, but also several key distinctions between what our art critic Ben Davis double World Biennial and Art market world. Here’s what we found.

They are parallel universes.

Biennial stars don’t match at all with power rankings in the art market. There’s almost no overlap between stars under 40 who have emerged from the recent biennial era, like the multimedia artist Korakrit Arunanondchaivideographer Uriel Orlowand sound artist Laurent Abu Hamdan— and those of the same generation who have become art market darlings over the past five years (think: Amoako Boafo, Ivy Haldeman, Anna Weyant).

The stars of the biennale come from all over, but they congregate in a few places.

A total of 1,599 artists have appeared on more than one of these major investigative shows since the last Documenta in 2017. The majority come from outside typical market centers, with a strong representation of diasporas from Asiathe Middle Eastand Latin America. Looking closer, a more traditional concentration of geographic power persists: mapping where the top 75 artists have their studios, just over half work in Berlin, LondonWhere New York.

The biennial Star System has its own economy.

Most mega-galleries are entirely absent from the list of dealers who represent the top 30 biennial artists. The leaders are Mor Charpentier (which represents four of the top 30), Konig Gallery (three), and Tanya Bonakdar (Three). Many of these dealers see promoting biennial stars as a vocation in their own right, but it’s not lucrative, especially in the beginning. “Money never really interested me,” said merchant Andrée Sfeir-Semler. “We need it, but it’s not our goal.”

The essential

There is a widely held assumption that inclusion in biennials will drive sales for artists down the line. But the gap between the mainstream art market and the biennial world shows that this assumption is deeply flawed. (Paris dealer Imane Rates even transfers money from his construction company to ensure the solvency of his biannual frequent flyers.)

Some commonalities between biennial stars help explain this phenomenon. They often focus on complex and critical themes such as climate change, politics, violence and oppression. And they usually express these ideas through hard-to-display media, including ambitious installations and multi-channel video works. The problem is, now more than ever, dealers say, even once-ambitious buyers want painting, painting and more painting.

So for now, most biennial artists are relying on a patchwork of support including Government funding, public foundations, and private money, as well as dealers who play the long game. But these safety nets are fragile and if they were to break, the “biennial artists” prized by the institutions would be left behind.

All this to say that if biennials do not find a way to adequately remunerate their participants, or to reduce their number and size, their proliferation is in fact a threat to the production of the work they claim to defend. All that will remain of this generation’s artistic production are easily digestible paintings that cause a sensation at Art Basel or at Christie’s. And that would be a bland future indeed.

[Report on the Economics of Being a Biennial Star]

[Profiles of the Top Artists]

[Our Critic’s Take on the Phenomenon]

[A Breakdown of Biennial Stars’ Gallery Representation]

[The Full List of Biennial Artists]


paint drops

The Hirschhorn Museum. (Photo by Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In this week Fresh paintwe reveal a new art reality show that will reward the winner of a solo exhibition at the Hirschhorn Museumand one Basel social club that wants to give the three kings a race for his CHF.

Here is what has marked the industry since last Friday morning…

Art fairs

Auction houses

  • Phillips will be hold its first live auction at Southampton on June 25, where it has operated exhibition space since August 2020. The sale includes prints and multiples of Andy Warhol, Catherine Opieand David Hockney. (Press release)

  • Sotheby’s former Global Chief Compliance Officer Rena Neville partnered with a real estate specialist FCS Compliance to create an anti-money laundering compliance service for the UK art market called FCS Compliance Art Division. (Press release)
  • Phillips named leading specialist in 20th century and contemporary art Nathalie Zaquin-Boulakia as the new regional director of France. (Journal of the Arts)


  • Lots of expansion news: Los Angeles vigorous Nino Mier extends to New York with a soho gallery in January 2023; Spruth Mager settles in the town square Upper East Side this month; and Marianne Goodman extends to Los Angeles. (FinancialTimes, Press releaseArtnet News)

  • Xavier Hufkens now represents the succession of Milton Avery (in partnership with Victoria Miro). Hufkens will include Avery’s work in its Art Basel booth next week. (Press Releasese)

  • After the easing of restrictions related to Covid-19, the postponement Beijing Weekend Gallery will continue from June 28 to July 3. (Press release)


  • FranceThe Ministry of Culture suspended the ex-louver President Jean Luc Martinez of his role as cultural heritage ambassador as he is investigated for alleged complicity in organized fraud and money laundering. (Artnet News)

  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art hiring Sasha Suda as the new Director and CEO. Suda, who held the same dual role for the National Gallery of Canada, will join the PMA in September. (Artnet News)

  • The record Ernie Barnes which sold for $15.3 million at Christie’s last month will be visible at Museum of Fine Arts, Houstonlent by contractor Bill Perkins, from June 15 to December. (Twitter)

NFTs and more

  • Yuga LaboratoriesThe server of was compromised in another phishing attack on Saturday, which resulted in the theft of $360,000 (200 ETH) NFT value. (ART news)

[Read More]


“In the countries we often call Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe…we have seen a series of astonishing, sometimes almost absurd, cases of primary political interference in the governance of museums, virtually wiping out the capacity of institutions.”

Bart de Baerepresident of CIMAMit is Museum watch program and director of Museum of Modern Art in Antwerp, on the recent history of government interference in museums. The organization is helping to draft a new set of guidelines to help cultural institutions retain their independence. (The arts journal)


Data drop

Louise Nevelson’s long wait

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

In the 1970s, Louise Nevelson couldn’t walk down the street without being asked for an autograph. Almost every show she has organized has sold out. But after his death in 1988, its market went into hibernation– and only now does he seem to be waking up. Its auction record currently stands at $1.4 milliona fraction of those of peers like Louise Bourgeois ($32 million) and Barnett Newman ($84.2 million). Here are the factors that contributed to this arrested development.

Take-out? If you’re shocked at the price of the work of artists who are only recently of rental car age, remember that there are still pockets of the market where there’s plenty of room to grow – and lots of art history to back up the prices.

[Read More]


Please join us in the Bedroom at the back. See you next Friday.

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Forward-looking statements The matters discussed in this report, as well as in future oral and …