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The Most Important Works of Art of the Twentieth Century


  • David W. Galenson


A survey of art history textbooks identifies and ranks the eight most important works of the 20th century. The most important painting of the century was Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, executed by Picasso at the age of 26, which began the development of Cubism. Among the other seven works, a collage, an earthwork, and a ready-made all represent new genres that had not existed at the start of the century. All eight works were made by conceptual artists, at a median age of just 32. The results underline the importance of young conceptual innovators, who made radical departures from existing conventions, in the advanced art of the century. Four of the eight works were made by Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, and this highlights the importance of the versatile conceptual innovators who became a prominent feature of twentieth-century art.

Suggested Citation

  • David W. Galenson, 2006. "The Most Important Works of Art of the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 12058, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12058
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    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets

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