The Celebrity Effect on The Contemporary Art Market
What Is The Role of Celebrities In the Contemporary Art Market?
In our minds, the realm of celebrity culture encompasses the entertainment industry more than the Contemporary art market.
However, celebs do break out of their well-written roles and act as some of the largest benefactors in the art scene.
The celebrity impact on the art market is felt from the artist’s studio to the auction houses through their participation as collectors, influencers, and muses. Below we break down the celebrity effect in the Contemporary Art market.
Artists grow more popular and become status symbols and collectible signs of wealth, making them attractive to celebrities. This kind of attention makes the artist even more attractive to additional collectors and triggers the self-reinforcing effect (celebrity effect).
Art collectors often shape contemporary art history because of their market power and connections with other art enthusiasts and market players. Adding a major celebrity to the provenance can affect not just the value of an artwork but also the future values of the artist.
Celebrity Art Collections
These celebrity collectors are not isolated to just the likes of movie stars and musical talents but also as political power holders and famous entrepreneurs in business.
In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy and Wall Street giant David Rockefeller recognized artists’ value to communities. They led movements to support artists and encourage collectors to invest in the community. As a result, more businesses started corporate art collections and sponsored large-scale museum exhibitions, making the arts more accessible to the public.
Collectors who regularly engage within the art community and those who understand art’s intrinsic value stimulate the art market and shape how Contemporary Art is experienced and remembered.
The works celebrities have purchased or influenced are iconic. And the fact that a celebrity has purchased these famous pieces increases the value of the art and the artist. An example is the purchases of Ed Rusha paintings by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the early 2010s and still today—with Ruscha now dominating the Modern and Contemporary sales—like at Sotheby’s Contemporary evening auction in 2022 Cold Beer Beautiful Girls sold for $16.1 million.
There is no denying that celebrities are powerful influencers. Brands will seek celebrity endorsement to procure more business, and we can see this parallel in the art market. We notice the uptick when a marquee name backs an artist.
Some of the best examples are the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z.
In 2021, Tiffany & Co. released an ad campaign that featured the musical couple with a third star, a never before seen Tiffany blue Jean-Michel Basquiat. This campaign refocused the spotlight on Basquiat and his artwork again, leading the Neo-expressionist painter to the second highest-grossing artist at auction last year (2021).
There’s no way of excluding the influence that the campaign had on our perception as consumers, matching Basquiat to the luxury and notoriety of a brand like Tiffany & Co. or musical artistry such as Beyonce.
The musical artist turned NFT artist Grimes has shown her support through social media to various visual artists, such as Takato Yamamoto. This kind of subtle yet impactful approval could propel the arch of an emerging contemporary artist to stardom.
Any support to an emerging artist or even an established artist by a recognizable name will lend to some kind of success in the market. Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald saw an uptick in their market recognition after former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama commissioned them for their official presidential portraits.
Their influence carries weight not just as a customer of particular artists but also as a celebrity curators. Sotheby’s has been reaping the benefit of the celebrity effect on the market through their “Contemporary Curated” series, where the auction house will bring on a celebrity to guest curate the sale. Previous guests included media mogul Oprah Winfrey, singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, designer Kim Jones, and producer Ryan Murphy.
The Celebrity as The Muse
One of the most defining cases of the celebrity effect in Contemporary Art, is when the celebrity acts as the muse to the artist. The work of Andy Warhol is a clear example of this. Warhol used numerous celebrities of his time in the 1960s to 1980s in his work, including as Queen Elizabeth, Elvis Presley, and Jackie Onassis-Kennedy. These portraits symbolized Warhol’s oeuvre and resulted in some of the highest prices for his work.
In May of 2022, Warhol’s Sage Shot Marilyn sold at Christie’s for a whopping $195 million, setting a new auction record for the artist and any American artist.
The History of the Celebrity Muse
The use of celebrity as a focus of the artistic composition can be traced to the time of Old Masters.
Historically, art was a result of patronage. Artists would be commissioned by wealthy merchants, royalty and the church for large-scale works and especially portraits. These examples could create traced lineages of artists to specific high-class individuals. This provenance through patronage became replaced with pop culture and the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
While Andy Warhol suggested the influence of his contemporary celebrities through a colorful means of speaking about the commodification of American culture, today, the celebrity as a muse takes a more literal interpretation.
The Artist Becomes the Celebrity
For the most desirable artists in the current Contemporary Art market, these artists have risen to a status that borders those of celebrities.
The valuation of painters such as the African American Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died from an overdose, the graffiti artist Keith Haring, who died from AIDS, or Jeff Koons, a former partner of a porn star he elected as his muse, has risen proportionally to the provocations or myths that artists have created around themselves.
As Koons himself theorized, in a world where everything is based on money, the price makes an artwork.
The more Contemporary art has expanded into the celebrity and mass-culture spheres, the more global brands are keen to partner with artists, and the more popular the artists will become both inside the art world and from a consumer perspective.
Audiences can now encounter the work of fine artists in Jay Z videos, on the cover of Vogue, on Louis Vuitton handbags and Nike sneakers, in tequila ad campaigns, and in a thousand other venues far more visible than the traditional art context — and, therefore, the art market will reap the benefits of this celebrity effect.