With artist Dash Snow’s death, will prices for his artwork zoom? In the art world, it’s called “the ghoul factor,” the phenomenon by which prices of a dead artist’s work take off because of financial speculation, the cutoff in supply, and, often, a posthumous canonization (already well under way in Snow’s case). Before Andy Warhol’s death in 1987, no Warhol had sold for more than $1 million; five years later, nearly two dozen had. “Works by artists who are deceased or no longer producing can be better investments,” says Constanze Kubern, senior art advisor of Castlestone Management, which started an art-investment fund in May. She declines to say whether Castlestone will go Snow shopping as a result, but there are a host of collectors and museums who wouldn’t consider an artist until he’s passed away, and Snow’s untimely death, like Warhol’s, puts the LES media star on their radar.
Certainly, Snow’s story has the making of million-dollar myth. “Now the art world has its beautiful corpse — its very own King of Pop, albeit the Brooklyn-hipster variant,” says Berlin art critic David Selden. The artist’s “unlikely biography” as the scion of the Über-rich De Menil clan “who rejected his privileged upbringing in favor of an existence of drugs, sex, and graffiti is the stuff of which dealers’ dreams are made.”
Dealers agree that the artist had garnered, even at a young age, powerful patrons and an international reputation that could buoy his market. His works were shown in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg as part of Charles Saatchi’s trendsetting “USA Today” exhibition. And influential star-maker Jeffrey Deitch hosted Snow’s and Colen’s “Nest” exhibition of summer 2007. (A book Deitch published on the show is currently climbing on Amazon.com.)
But Andy Warhol died at the beginning of a huge art-market boom, Snow at the end of one — “and before he really made enough work for people to make a market in it,” says one auction-house official, who, like several others in the art world, preferred not to be quoted on the financial value of the artist’s legacy. Plus, Snow’s early works are Polaroids, which are known to age badly. Some experts say the near-term arc of Snow’s prices may be more similar to that of fellow graffiti artist Keith Haring, who died in 1990. The art market, tanking at the time, was flooded with too many Harings after his death, pushing down prices.
So far, the 27-year-old Snow’s works have made few appearances at auction, and with somewhat mixed results. In May at Phillips de Pury, his Dreams Die Hard collage zoomed to $6,875 against an estimate of about $2,500. A year earlier, his Incest, the Game the Whole Family Can Play, just squeaked by its reserve, selling for $8,750, with commission, against an estimate of $10,000 to $12,000.
Even before Snow’s death, works by his friends and colleagues, Ryan McGinley, Dan Colen, and Terence Koh were already starting to sell for more. Art critic Charlie Finch predicts a boom in the market for works by Colen and McGinley. In particular, Colen’s candle-painting series will be seen as a tribute to Snow, he predicts. (One of them, Going, Going, Go… sold at Phillips in London for $132,663 in February.) “It will be like when the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones died,” Finch says. “Mick Jagger and Keith Richards got famous.”