Earlier this week, chatter started to circulate on social media sites about a new website publishing lists of who's up—and perhaps more importantly, who's down—in the market for emerging contemporary art. Top-ten rankings in easy-to-understand categories spanning from "Buy Now<$10,000" to "Liquidate (Trending Down)" combine with snappy analysis of key lots in this week's London sales on the homepage of SellYouLater.com, which promises the information was based on "qualitatively-weighted metrics."
At first glance, the ranked names (Mark Flood is up, Banksy is down) seemed plausible based on a quick poll around the office of gut reactions as to where artists are in the market. But the site's developers are offering to lead investors out of the murky realm of gut reactions, into a promised land of rational analysis based on verified, standardized data that considers such factors as web presence, studio capacity, and museum support.
Sure, some fussbudgets might complain that aesthetics seem to have no place in the equation, but more than a few people nowadays see art's future as a numbers game. Other worryworts might tell you to turn your back on anyone claiming to know Banksy's studio capacity or how to reliably quantify a deeply personal and ever-changing relationship like that between gallery and artist. And isn't it strange that a bunch of highly qualified economic stiffs would choose such a glib name for their new operation or tag their Instagram account with a Guy Fawkes mask associated with V for Vendetta and the hacktivist group Anonymous?
But we are trusting folks, so we sent off a few questions to the only contact we could find, and were delivered a prompt "exclusive" first interview courtesy of one S. Lysell (get it?). The answers do little to shed light on the vague promise of a new metric-based art economy. To be honest, we are hoping this is actually a savvy art project skewering those seeking a reductivist equivalence between art and money. In a follow-up, however, the backers, whoever they are, assured us "it is real."
Who are the principals behind the site?
We would prefer to stay anonymous right now. In the last two days, we have received violent threats from individuals who believe our quantitative forecasting is an unfair market force.
When did you launch?
We developed the algorithm for an emerging art fund in 2012. The algorithm facilitated a 4200 percent return on investment over a 16 month period. SellYouLater™ launched on February 8, 2014. Our intent is to quantify deep industry knowledge and grant access to both collectors and institutions interested in the emerging segment. Until a few years ago, auction results were not publicly distributed; we envision a similar demand and adoption curve for art market forecast models.
How often will the listings be updated?
The SellYouLater™ index is updated when significant data points emerge.
In the rankings, what do you mean by "purgatory?"
These artists’ market relevance has either subsided or gathered insufficient momentum to belong in the actionable categories. We do not intend a negative connotation, but we do not believe the artists of this cohort to be timely investments.
Where do you get your data?
Our data is supplied by a network of dealers, advisors, auction houses, collectors, and journalists. We vow strictly to maintain their confidentiality in exchange for the insider data they provide. They are reciprocally recompensed with alerts and reports ahead of our public announcements.
How do you calculate something like "gallery representation" and "major collector support?"
We’ve used machine-learning algorithms to identify relevant metrics from over three million historic data points including auction results, representation, collectors, and museums. These weighted qualitative metrics work in conjunction with our classification algorithm to identify prime artist prospects based on known trajectory profiles.
Is this an academic exercise or a business? If the latter, what are you planning to sell?
We provide clarity in an opaque market by providing actionable forecasting to collectors and institutions seeking entry to the emerging art market. Collectors and institutions interested in obtaining our reports ahead of the general public ought to contact us.
Is this real or is this an art project?
It is real.