Decoding Investment-Grade Art: An Intro for Beginner Collectors

Investment-grade art refers to artworks perceived to have the potential for appreciation in value over time, which makes them a strategic investment. Art serves not only as a unique addition to your personal space but also as a valuable asset for diversifying wealth. In fact, art is the biggest collectible asset, outperforming even the stock market. While personal taste is subjective, the criteria of investment-grade art go beyond aesthetics, focusing on tangible factors that indicate enduring value. 

Looking closely at the trajectory of some of the most successful modern and contemporary artists, we can see that the enduring value is an effect of quality. Yet, without a broader context, quality may seem like an elusive notion. What does it mean and how does the market assign value to artists, their practice and individual works? We delve into examples of three iconic artists’ careers to investigate the concept of quality in the art world and its relevance to the concept of investment-grade art. Our focus remains on two aspects of quality: the way artists challenge the status quo, and how auction records can reflect the appreciation of such groundbreaking moments. 

Breaking Continuity 

When speaking of art and its history, the idea of groundbreaking moments helps us structure our thinking about the evolution of styles and approaches. We use words ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘avant-garde’ in reference to artists who ruptured existing patterns and left lasting marks on mediums, concepts, cultural movements and traditions.‘Groundbreaking’ implies an unprecedented contribution that marks a departure from what has come before: the first painting of modern times, the invention of linear perspective during the Renaissance, and the revolutionary use of colour theory by the Impressionists. 

Artworks that shape crucial moments in art history and beyond hold inherent historical value. If an artwork is pioneering, pushing boundaries, and breaking away from established norms, it’s often a testament to the quality, which contributes to its enduring value over time. While this dynamic is seen among various artists at different stages of their careers, the trajectories of Andy Warhol, Tracey Emin and Banksy offer a particularly accessible perspective on what ‘groundbreaking’ means for quality and value.

Emin: Reinventing the Image of Womanhood

Tracey Emin constantly pushes boundaries of representing trauma and intimacy in art. Her pioneering perspective on womanhood lies in the open exploration of personal experiences, empowerment of women through vulnerability and a challenge to traditional notions of femininity. In 1996, the artist isolated herself in a locked gallery room for fourteen days. The experience of solitude among empty canvases and art materials was made available to the public as visitors were able to look at Emin through wide-angle lenses built into walls. 

Building on the experimental legacy of Joseph Beuys whose performance “I Like America, and America Likes Me” (1974) saw the artist living with a wild coyote for seven days, Emin puts her life experience at the centre of her practice, all to find a more nuanced and authentic portrayal of the female self. Through “Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made” (1996), Emin brought a new perspective to performance art, opening a new chapter in a largely male-centred discourse.

Ranging from installations, sculptures, and neon signs, Emin’s works embrace the complexities of being a woman. They delve into the experience of illness as well as sexuality, relationships and desire, the visions of which challenge conventional ideas of femininity and continue to pioneer a more authentic and inclusive representation. Traditionally considered taboo, the key themes in Emin’s art introduced a profound departure from the past, positioning the artist as a key contributor to the arc of art history.

Warhol: Timeless Silkscreen Prints

An icon of Pop Art, Andy Warhol transformed the art world as one of the key artists to disrupt the boundary between fine art and commercial culture. “Before and After” made in 1961 is a good example of the groundbreaking aspects of his approach. Featuring an enlarged version of a black-and-white advertisement reminiscent of cheap newspapers, this early painting shows two profiles of the same woman, before and after a nose operation. Warhol did not simply replicate commercial images and signs but turned them into a subject in its own right, disrupting conventional distinctions between consumerism and fine art. 

To engage with the influence of mass production on American life, Warhol’s artworks employed mechanised techniques like silkscreen printing and incorporated a series of repeated images. His signature method consisted in turning a photograph into a silkscreen and using the screen to print the image directly onto a canvas. This allowed him to produce multiple images from one screen using different colours of ink.

Warhol’s innovative approach to the silkscreen medium played a crucial role in reshaping the landscape of contemporary art, the development of the Pop Art movement and rebelling against Abstract Expressionism. By embracing mass production and applying commercial printing methods to art, Warhol made distinctions between popular culture and high art invisible.

Banksy: Stencil Revolution

Banksy’s art is groundbreaking for its transformative impact on street art, taking it from urban environments to global prominence and raising awareness of political, environmental and sociopolitical issues through a uniquely satirical lens. Moreover, the artist’s use of stencils in street art has revolutionised the urban art landscape. Employing stencils allows Banksy to efficiently reproduce intricate and impactful images, a technique that stands in stark contrast to the labour-intensive, one-of-a-kind pieces traditionally associated with art. The adoption of stencils aligns seamlessly with Banksy's commitment to anonymity, enabling him to create and disappear swiftly from the streets where his work appears. 

The use of stencils plays a pivotal role in democratising street art, breaking free from the confines of galleries and bringing art directly to the public. In essence, Banksy’s pioneering approach to stencils has not only transformed the nature of street art but has also left an indelible mark on the broader contemporary art scene. The bold and easily recognizable aesthetics of his stencilled images have become a signature, contributing to the global recognition of Banksy's art.

Auction Record

Auction records reflect the perceived value of the market, or the general market's appreciation of the art. It is important to note, however, that auction records can also be shaped by trends, hype, or even deliberate attempts to manipulate the market.

The markets of Emin, Banksy and Warhol reflect each artist’s cultural status and legacy. Tracey Emin’s number of lots sold has risen steadily from 43 in 2012 to 216 in 2023.Such market recognition is a positive sign for collectors showing that the artist has a dedicated audience and a sustained level of interest. While the high number suggests that these works are in large part multiples, investors often look for artists with a sustained and evolving body of work – the sign of commitment to their craft and potential for long-term returns. Multiples can contribute to an artist’s commercial success and make their work more accessible, but collectors should go beyond sales numbers and consider factors such as the quality of individual pieces and the overall uniqueness of the body of work. In 2014, Tracey Emin’s iconic installation “My Bed” (1988) was sold for a record price of £2,200,000 at Christie’s. As of now, the artwork’s indicative value is as high as £3,808,278, a reflection of demand and appreciation of Emin’s cultural status. 

In “What Is Contemporary Art?” Terry Smith claims that ‘for auction houses around the world, Andy Warhol is the figure who defines the transition from modern to contemporary art. Works by him – inevitably tagged as “icons” – frequently appear as the last works to be offered in sales designated “postwar”’.The positioning of Warhol as a Pop Art icon as well as the point of historical transition is reflective of the cultural value his artworks hold. The consistent record-breaking performance of Warhol’s artworks, notably the sale of "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn" in May 2022, where it reached $195 million, represent a robust and appreciating market for Warhol’s pieces. The auction records have also been skyrocketing for Banksy’s pieces, with the iconic "Girl with a Balloon" shredding itself during a Sotheby's auction in 2018, and selling for £16 million. These examples of auction performance reflect not only the artists' profound cultural impact but also the groundbreaking nature of their art.

While consistent sales records are easy to find among established artists, it doesn’t mean that only well-known, recognisable names are worth the investment. An active secondary market outside of auctions helps to support the market trajectory of the artist. Collectors and investors should remain open to exploring the work of emerging artists, recognising that value appreciation and cultural significance also emerge from new and exciting voices. Adam Stone, the director of LON Gallery, comments in this context: ‘A non-negotiable for me when looking for an emerging artist is for someone who already has a highly developed level of maturity and commitment to their practice. Sometimes artists find success easily and early, which although wonderful, maybe means they haven’t had the opportunity to develop the endurance and grit to weather the ups and downs of an art career. I’m looking for staying power and whether or not the artist has found success yet or not is less important’.3 Investing in emerging artists involves an element of foresight and discovery, as these artists may not yet have an extensive sales history. However, it is precisely this early investment that can yield returns as their careers progress.


Auction records reflect a complex interplay of the quality of art, its cultural resonance and status against the broader context of art history. The examples of Tracey Emin, Banksy and Warhol can be useful for early-stage guidance but analysing the markets of thousands of artists to identify patterns and trends requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. Art markets are diverse, and each artist’s trajectory is influenced by a multitude of factors. Advisory services can guide collectors on their art portfolio's overall performance and potential growth. Despite the importance of advisory, only 6% of collectors employ such services.4  This is where Artscapy makes a difference. Believing that great-quality, investable art should be accessible for everyone,  we make art advisory available to our members to help you build, shape, and manage art portfolios whether early or later on in the art collecting journey.

In the ever-evolving art market, understanding the nuances of investment-grade art is crucial for collectors seeking to navigate the complexities of art investments. By recognising key features and leveraging professional advisory services, collectors can position themselves to thrive in the dynamic world of art appreciation and investment. We build on 30+ years of art collecting and market experience to guide you on this journey.

If you're interested in exploring investment-grade art, contact our advisory team at

Terry Smith, What Is Contemporary Art? (2012), p. 56

4 Artnet


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