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Primary vs Secondary Art Markets Explained

Investing in art means spotting a good deal. Do you know enough to recognize great value and anticipate future returns? Diversify your collection with works from both the primary and secondary art market.

Common questions I’m asked: What is the secondary art market? How is it different from the primary? What do you even mean by primary and secondary? While the international art market is incredibly complex in scope, scale, and changing patterns, the difference between these two categories is easily explained. Let’s talk basics – artwork available for sale comprises the global art market. Whether a piece is found in person at Russell Collection, posted online through a third party site like Artsy, or offered at Christie’s for auction, it is categorized as either a primary market or secondary market work.

Robert Indiana (b. 1928), HEAL (positive variation), 2014, sheet: 32 x 32 inches, Silkscreen on 2ply Rising Museum Board, Editions: 4 and 25 /25. Priced at $15,000. Artist’s secondary market high auction record: $4m in 2011.

Robert Indiana (b. 1928), 3 Untitled, 2018, 48 x 36 inches, Acrylic on Canvas. Priced at $6,900. Primary market.

The Primary Market

Primary market works are being sold for the first time and reach collectors in a variety of ways – direct from the artist’s studio, through gallery representation, or at a contemporary art fair like Art Basel or Frieze. The primary market is an excellent option for savvy collectors seeking to buy a piece by the next Pollock or Basquiat. At Russell Collection we represent emerging and mid-career artists like Hayley Mitchell and Hunt Slonem, affording collectors the opportunity to buy never before seen pieces with the potential for high resale in the future.

The Secondary Market

Secondary market works have been sold previously and are now offered at auction or sold again through a gallery. These pieces can come from an established artist with a strong market, providing collectors insight into how their investment will perform. Here at Russell our collection extends into the secondary market with works available from Pop artist Robert Indiana (high auction record: $4m, 2011) to Brooklyn-based graffiti artist KAWS (high auction record: $14.9m, 2019). 

Collection Diversification

Having primary and secondary works in your portfolio offers the advantages of both markets – the possibility of high gains with the security of a guaranteed return. Shop our inventory in-person or browse our online artists shop to source your next investment.

KAWS (b. 1974), MOCAD, 2019, sheet: 8 x 10 inches, Acrylic on Wove Paper. Priced at $7,000. Artist’s secondary market high auction record: $14.9m in 2019.

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