The Reappearing Masterpiece: Ranking American Artists and Art Works of the Late Twentieth Century

David W. Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 9935
Issued in September 2003
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

A survey of the illustrations in textbooks of modern art produces the startling finding that art scholars consider Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty to be the most important individual work made by an American artist during the past 150 years. More generally, quantifying the evidence of the textbooks reveals the source of the pluralism,' or stylistic incoherence, of American art since the late 1960s. A persistently high demand for artistic innovation has produced a regime in which conceptual approaches have predominated. The art world has consequently been flooded by a series of new ideas, usually embodied in individual works, generally made by young artists who have failed to make more than one significant contribution in their careers. The dramatic and monumental Spiral Jetty, made in 1970 by a young artist who was killed soon thereafter while in the process of making his art, has become a symbol for the art of this era.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9935

Published: Galenson, David W. "The Reappearing Masterpiece: Ranking American Artists and Art Works of the Late Twentieth Century." Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History 38, 4 (Fall 2005): 178-188.

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