“THE DATA DOESN’T LIE”. JONAS LUND IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTFACTS

Jonas Lund, CRITICAL MASS (WE TAKE YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO), 2017, UV print and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 190 x 4 cmJonas Lund is one of the top 10 artists from Sweden based on the Artfacts ranking. In 2014, Arforum wrote that Lund “holds a mirror to the art world’s systems of evaluation and assignations of value”. He is best known for utilising data and technology to question power structures and distribution of agency. With Marek Claassen and Stine Albertsen from Artfacts, the home of the artist ranking, he speaks about his ranking, how to improve it and why he uses data in his work. 

Jonas Lund: In my work I have used a lot of different art world data, both for research and as material for artistic production. One could say, I am rather obsessed with quantification and metrics. One of my long term goals in my career is to reach the Top 250 on Artfacts. What advice would you give me based on your data to reach that goal?

Stine Albertsen: I’m glad to hear that someone else is as obsessed with quantification and metrics within the art world as Marek. This commitment allowed us to introduce the Artist Ranking algorithm in 2004, a first in measuring the cultural reputation of any artist.

Marek Claassen: Yes, it has been the main focus of my career to keep a record of all the exhibition data globally from 1863’s Salon des Refusés onwards. With this historical context, I can see that you’re currently ranked 1,110 globally with 85 shows, of which 17 have been solo. Comparatively, the artist currently at position 250 is Jürgen Klauke, who has held 535 shows, with 67 of them solo. My advice, therefore, would be to exhibit more often, and at consistently important institutions.

JL: I guess, not all artists believe in rankings. What is your answer to the sceptics?

MC: The same rule applies to everyone! That makes a mathematical comparison transparent and fair.

SA: You’ll always have non-believers, normally when the data doesn’t work in their favour.

JL: In my show THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT (2013), I created a large database of the art world that became the material for an algorithm that generated instructions for how to make successful works of art. My idea was that it must be possible to be one step ahead of the art world by using well-crafted algorithms and big data insights. Could your data be used for such purposes as well?

MC: The data doesn’t lie. With proper analysis, we can map out the best steps that an artist can take in order to be most likely to achieve success; whether that’s the countries to focus one’s shows in, the institutions and curators to aim for, or even the medium to concentrate on. We can analyse social network trends that can be used to predict career trends, and it’s something we’ve been working on for some time now.

SA: Indeed, but we wouldn’t want to influence the art world in this way and force artists  especially young artists  to take a path purely for cultural or commercial success. At our core we look to remain impartial on Artfacts in how we communicate our data insights.

Jonas Lund, TRASTEVERE LUCK 221, 2013, Crashed motorcycle, installation view THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT, Showroom Mama, Rotterdam

JL: When working with large datasets and machine learning, I often find myself realising that with large enough datasets one can tell whatever story one wants, by adjusting the parameters. I usually paraphrase Mark Twain’s quote “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” by replacing statistics with Big Data. How objective would you say the Artfacts’ ranking algorithm is? What biases are you currently aware of? 

MC: As Stine said, we look to remain as impartial as can be. However, the biases are in the data. We are physically unable to enter all exhibitions that have happened and are happening right now. This is due to different archiving standards in different countries and social environments  not to mention the requirement for these institutions to willingly share this data with us. This aside, ranking algorithms are inherently correct because the same rules and criteria apply to all participants in the same way  no matter artistic style or other work based criteria, or their ethnicity, gender or social class.

SA: We do, however, recognise that inequity exists within the art market due to these societal factors, as these often impact the level of access an artist has to a handful of prestigious institutions. As such, Artfacts exists as a mirror to the current art market, tracking how it is changing, and hopefully prompting actions to do so for the better. 

JL: As far as I know, the Artfacts ranking assigns points to institutions and galleries and uses this to determine the artist ranking. Can you give insights into how the algorithm works?

MC: Art world institutions gain reputation out of their past exhibitions. This reputation is transmitted to any artist exhibiting in one of these institutions no matter their background. Everybody has the same chances.

JL: How was the original ranking score assigned to the different galleries, institutions and museums?

SA: In the past we used a museum’s collection and gallery representation instead of their exhibition history to determine the reputation status of an institution. This has since evolved as our data sources have grown.

Jonas Lund, HYPE CYCLE, 2016, 3 Samsung Smart TVs, 3 Custom Metal Frames, 3 computers, 3 custom software, 2016, installation view JONAS LUND & TIMM ULRICHS, Melange at PIK, Cologne

JL: In 2013, I created my own Curatorial Ranking Algorithm that was based largely on who the curator had worked with and where they had organised exhibitions, resulting in the work THE TOP 100 HIGHEST RANKED CURATORS IN THE WORLD. Will you start to rank curators as well as artists, galleries and institutions?

MC: Every piece of information stored in the Artfacts database is weighted by an algorithm: artists, museums, galleries, fairs, cities, countries and even curators as well. But we do not rank and publish every calculation; today only artists and gallery rankings are published.

JL: In my most recent painting series UNTITLED I source data from various auction houses, and other art platforms that shall remain unnamed. I use this data to create new compositions that are optimised for success through a data-driven artistic production mechanism. There are different companies that attempt to quantify aesthetics, for example by creating an “art genome”. Artfacts takes a different position. The Artfacts ranking algorithm does not quantify the quality of an artist’s work. Do you plan to add such features in the future?

MC: Correct, we do not quantify the quality of specific artworks, and nor do we think that is our role. Our role is to provide some sort of measurement and objectivity to the artists who make up our world, according to their curatorial impact.

SA: That being said, we are thinking about analysing patterns in images, however this is not for the purpose of identifying quality beyond association with the maker.

Jonas Lund, UNTITLED (16 02), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, NFC tags and metal frame, 125 x 100 x 5 cm

JL: Is the Artfacts ranking a more objective artistic evaluation metric compared to say for example auction results?

MC: We believe so. The artist ranking represents the artists in the eye of the curator – a form of ultimate social proof – whereas auction rankings represent the artist in the eye of the mostly private collector.

SA: We feel that if the art world needs to be measured, as mankind demands some sort of measurement and objectivity, it’s far better to measure curatorial fame than purely market value which can provide too many anomalies and doesn't provide the full picture.

JL: Artfacts recently launched a new app, Limna, that gives you “immediate price validation and data visualisation for more than 700,000 artists – acting as your AI-powered Art Advisor in your pocket”. How does the pricing algorithm work? Square centimetre in combination with Artfacts, but what other metrics does it take into account?

MC: Using machine learning, Limna analyses millions of data points in seconds – tracking every exhibition and every art fair, along with more information than we can list here. Currently we train the model with more than 20 features; these features describe the artist (professional history, social factors, and relations), the environment (galleries, museums, fairs, location, etc.), the artworks  (media, size), and their sales history where available from both galleries and auction.

SA: Crucially Limna’s price estimation fulfils a need which hasn’t been met so far, as our model uses these metrics to produce primary market prices – unlike so many others out there which focus on auctions – allowing us to give confidence to existing and new buyers in not only how much an artist’s work should cost, buy also why. And in doing so, we hope to promote even more people to buy art on the primary market, and thus benefit the world’s artists and galleries more directly.

JL: What's the best advice you can give to artists who want to improve their prices and ranking?

MC: It all comes down to exhibits – and supplying proof of them to Artfacts, of course.

Jonas Lund, CRITICAL MASS (WE RESPOND TO YOUR SIGNALS), 2017, UV print and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 190 x 4 cm

BIO

Jonas Lund (*1984, Sweden) creates paintings, sculptures, photography, websites and performances that critically reflect on contemporary networked systems and power structures of control. His artistic practice involves creating systems and setting up parameters that require engagement from the viewer.

Lund earned an MA at Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam (2013) and a BFA at Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam (2009). He has had solo exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery (2019), London; Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2016); Steve Turner, Los Angeles (2016, 2015, 2014); Växjö Konsthall Sweden (2016); Showroom MAMA, Rotterdam (2013); and New Museum, New York (2012). He has had work included in numerous group exhibitions including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin; ZKM, Karlsruhe; Vienna Biennale 2019; Witte De With, Rotterdam; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 

His work has been written about in Artforum, Frieze, Kunstforum, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Rhizome, Wired and more.

Jonas Lund, On this day, König Digital, Decentraland

ABOUT ARTFACTS

Artfacts creates transparency in the art world, helping artists to understand their career position and galleries to make more informed decisions on their artist representation since 2001. With the largest curatorial art database in existence, comprising more than 700,000 artists tracked from more than 45,000 institutions worldwide, Artfacts has amassed more than 1,000,000 exhibitions from 1863-2022 and continues to grow weekly. The philosophy of Artfacts is "art history is exhibition history”, acting as the trusted record keeper for the global art world. A sibling brand to Limna, the world’s first AI-powered art advisor, making it easier for anyone to confidently buy art, both brands are based in London and Berlin and share co-founders, Marek Claassen and Stine Albertsen, and CEO, Jonas Almgren. Learn more at www.artfacts.net and www.limna.ai.

CREDITS

CRITICAL MASS (WE TAKE YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO), 2017, UV print and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 190 x 4 cm
TRASTEVERE LUCK 221, 2013, Crashed motorcycle, installation view THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT, Showroom Mama, Rotterdam
HYPE CYCLE, 2016, 3 Samsung Smart TVs, 3 Custom Metal Frames, 3 computers, 3 custom software, installation view JONAS LUND & TIMM ULRICHS, Melange at PIK, Cologne
UNTITLED (16 02), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, NFC tags and metal frame, 125 x 100 x 5 cm
CRITICAL MASS (WE RESPOND TO YOUR SIGNALS), 2017, UV print and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 190 x 4 cm

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