The Lowensteins Index

Written by: Evan Lowenstein
For the last few years Lowensteins has been collating figures to show how the economic conditions have affected artists’ incomes over the years.
This year the Lowensteins Index is particularly relevant, due to the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on artists’ incomes.
We are pleased to release these latest statistics to support our claims that the visual arts in Australia is suffering enormously from the pandemic. It is interesting to note that the downturn in the primary art market as evidenced by these figures is a quite different scenario when compared to the secondary market that has seen remarkable positive results with record prices and a marked uptick in the profits of auction houses.
As far as the visual arts is concerned and the primary market in particular, our figures show that this downturn, whilst not unexpected, highlights the need for a reversal in government policy that has seen a decline in the level of support and funding. These negative results are compounded when you see the effect of significant legislation like superannuation prohibition on acquiring works of art.
Lowensteins’ extensive data base of some 3000 artists’ incomes goes back fifteen years. The overall decline in artists’ incomes supports our observations about the current financial plight of Australian artists. This is a well-noted side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the purposes of this research, we analysed anonymous data that looked at three groups of artists. 

The Lowensteins Index.

We have divided up the table into three groups.

1. Established Artists

This group of artists includes many who are household names i.e. those who have been involved in selling and exhibiting commercially for many years.
They are considered senior artists and many are mentors to a younger generation of artists.

2. Mid – Career Artists

These are artists who are in the prime of their career and have enjoyed commercial success for several years.
A major characteristic of these artists is that they still need to rely on a source of additional income, be it from teaching or other art related occupational groups to earn a living wage and support the costs of their practice.

3.  Emerging Artists

Some of these younger artists have had some art training at tertiary institutions. They are part of the emerging art scene, and some have participated in artists-run spaces and shared studios.
In the last survey in 2018, we analysed data, including the gross sales over a seven year period, and compared sales made in 2010 to 2017.
This year we are focusing in on the 2020 year, the last 4 months showed the COVID-19 effect.
These figures serve to give a good indication of the trend of artist’s incomes, subject to some minor statistical errors.
Lowensteins does not represent every artist in Australia but this data represents a fair sample on which to base a study.

What the figures show
Group 1 – Established
$7,478,490$6,417,13914% Decrease
Group 2 – Mid-
career artists
$2,348,550$2,247,610 4% Decrease
Group 3 – Emerging
$1,883,741$1,493,38621% Decrease

Understanding the figures

For those of you observing the general economic malaise affecting other areas, such as retail and travel, these figures would come as no surprise.
For quite a while the effects of galleries closing and resorting to online sales has resulted in a environment where artists haven’t had the opportunity that they have in other years, to show their work with the rewards of sale; and so they have reaped little income for their work.
This performance is in marked contrast to the secondary, auction house market that has shown a dramatic increase in the demand and ultimate sale of high-end art available to those with the means to afford it. Whether it is a ‘flight to safety’ approach that purchasers have in relation to securing some financial security or an availability of cash due to their lack of opportunity to travel, people are spending their moneys on purchasing art at auction houses.
These auction sales, mind you, are not cutting-edge contemporary artists’ works but tried and true works by ‘dead white males’ that provide good resale value. Rather than placing a few bets on new emerging artists, purchasers have gone for the security of older, more established name artists.
There is some room for optimism because we have seen the nation opening up for business. Many art galleries have remained open. They are starting to see a resurgence in primary market art sales.
The other positive observation is that while spending many months in lock down, many artists have continued to produce top quality work.Those with studios at home and/or less than 5kms away have developed much high-grade work during that time.
In 2021 we look forward to seeing the art market in full swing once the population is more confident after the COVID-19 vaccinations take place and Australia is open for business again.