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

  • David W. Galenson

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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9935.

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Date of creation: Sep 2003
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as 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.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9935
Note: LS
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  1. David W. Galenson, 2002. "Was Jackson Pollock the Greatest Modern American Painter? A Quantitative Investigation," NBER Working Papers 8830, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. David W. Galenson, 2005. "The Methods and Careers of Leading American Painters in the late Nineteenth Century," NBER Working Papers 11545, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David W. Galenson, 1999. "Quantifying Artistic Success: Ranking French Painters - and Paintings - from Impressionism to Cubism," NBER Working Papers 7407, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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