One million masterpieces every ten years?

History has taught us that masterpieces are such precisely because they are rare. That in their own life an artist, even the greatest, produces an extremely limited number of major works that will be milestones within their body of work as a whole. And that the works that society considers exemplary and capable of representing an age are even rarer.

The 16th century? Around one hundred fundamental works. And an endless series of variations on the theme, derivations and reproductions. The 17th century? Another hundred works. And so on for the centuries to come. If we had to count the absolute masterpieces starting from the year 1000 AD to today, calculating one hundred works for each of the ten past centuries of history, we would have one thousand works put together. Only one thousand works, no more. Those that marked a turning point. Those that were capable of expressing their time in radical terms. One hundred per century, multiplied by ten, equals one thousand.

A rounded-down estimate? Shall we exaggerate, for fairness’ sake? OK then, let’s say one thousand masterpieces a century. For ten centuries, that makes ten thousand. Ten thousand masterpieces in one thousand years. More or less the same number of works that were exhibited at the latest edition of Art Basel alone.

If we then multiply this number, ten thousand, by three hundred, that is approximately the number of art events (including fairs, biennials and others) that are held every year worldwide, what does that make? Three million. Divided by two, because not all fairs are as important as Art Basel, makes one million and a half. Again divided by two, once again for fairness’ sake? More than seven hundred thousand. That seems to us to be enough, right? After all, that’s the number of works presented per year. Of course, if we add those sold at auction we are back to over one million again. At this point let us put all the works that go through the galleries or directly from the artists to the collectors to one side. Only because the resulting number would be shockingly high.

The art market today is certainly infinitely larger than in the 17th century. And this growth means an exponential increase in the number of artworks available. And since today everything is art or, at the very least, everything is artistic (an issue to which we will return), the problem of quality, or rather of identifying it, is increasingly challenging. In fact, if we consider that of the million works available a year – we are rounding down – each time ten percent are presented to us as masterpieces, at least judging from the asking prices, then we arrive at the ridiculous figure of one hundred thousand masterpieces present on the market. Every year. Because this is what the market would have us believe when it attempts to convince us of our ignorance when faced with outrageous prices or unpresentable works. Multiply this by ten years of a buoyant market and this makes one million masterpieces that have passed before our eyes in the last ten years alone. One million. Compared with the ten million masterpieces that we managed to count, with hindsight, in the last thousand years.

It is from considerations such as this that our idea of Slow Art came about. If what you are being offered is another one of those ten million masterpieces, when there is no time to lose, you should at least take the time to reflect.