It's no secret that the art world can be a cruel, money-obsessed beast – but it's never before been quantified in an app before. ArtRank, a metrics-based site, claims to crunch the numbers to come up with the definitive list of which hot young artists would-be collectors should snap up, sell or – rather sinisterly – 'liquidate'.
ArtRank uses a unique top-secret mathematical algorithm to analyse data from a network of dealers, advisors, auction houses, collectors, and journalists to quantify the market value of young and up-and-coming artists. Then, it channels that data into a Who's Who table of collectable artists.
The site appeared online in early February as the mercilessly-named SellYouLater, which was quickly swapped for its current (and less brutal) tagline. Some people smelled a rat, especially when they saw SellYouLater's Instagram profile pic of choice: the V for Vendetta mask associated with Anonymous. Others thought it was an elaborate joke that lampooned the rules that govern proper art collecting.
But Carlos A. Rivera, the gallerist and venture capitalist behind the site, is adamant that it's a real and very useful tool for the art world, describing it as a "metrics-based approach to art collecting". His two partners have backgrounds in financial engineering and data science, but want to remain anonymous.
"I wanted it to be mathematical," Rivera told ArtFCity. "I didn’t want it to be subjective and have relationship bias (for instance, I didn’t want to buy works only by Banksy based on my relationship or lack thereof with him). So that’s the basis for what became ArtRank."
And if Rivera is to be believed, it's working: there are now "thousands" of subscribers, with 900 signing up in the first week alone. Apparently, more than ten billionaire art collectors are among them.
"The nature of disruptive innovation creates incredulity," he told us. "It is easier for some to believe it is satire than to believe it can be an accurate indicator of emerging talent. There are hundreds of advisors who feel threatened by the transparency of this information and, likely, their best recourse is to dismiss it as satire."
As for the V for Vendetta mask? "We wanted to be anonymous and the Anonymous pic is the most globally recognized image of anonymity. There was no 'anarchist' inclination."
Whether or not you believe ArtRank is a cunning satire or an IRL start-up, it does reflect some very uncomfortable hard truths about the current state of the art market. Work is going for record sales – last year, a Francis Bacon triptych sold for $142.4 million – and people are starting to darkly mutter about a market crash in the contemporary art market. ArtRank pierces through the insecurity and doubt to offer cold, hard facts.
Although given its lack of competitors and the secrecy surrounding how the all-important algorithm works, it's not like there's anyone around to fact-check their results. (Rivera admits that given the way the data is collected, the numbers aren't exhaustive – "however, we do post our archived indexes and I think this question will be best answered a year from now when our accuracy has been publicly confirmed," he says.)
So which artists do you need to buy, buy, buy? Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, who exhibited at the recent DISown show, is one. Self-referential process painter Israel Lund is another. Eddie Peake, apparently, is "peaking" and his work is ripe for sale.
If you ever thought that the art industry needs a little less art and a little more algorithms, you can head here to check ArtRank out.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing