It doesn’t take a financial expert to detect the significant shifts in the contemporary art market of the previous year. Still, seeing the numbers only confirms what we all knew - the art market is growing steadily, both geographically and financially, with more and more players and artists stepping onto the scene. Annual Artprice report sums up the trends in the international art market in the period between July 2013 and early July 2014, focusing on contemporary artists, those born after 1945. The elaborate study analyses the results of achieved auction prices, without taxes or buyer’s premiums. The report names artists who top the market as well, announcing new names to keep an eye on.
The 2013-2014 was special for several reasons, appearing to be all about growth. A new peak was achieved over the year, the best in the history of contemporary art at auction in terms of auction turnover, with 3,663 new records for artists and 179 bids of over 1 million. Records came both in the general form of €477 million reached at the Christie’s New York record-breaking sale on May 13 this year, and as a personal high for the priciest artist alive, Jeff Koons, with his Balloon Dog selling for €38.8 million. Viewing the art market numbers in retrospect, the auction turnovers almost doubled since 2009-2010, returning to the situation between 2004 and 2007, with prices soaring high. Price index of contemporary artists is also trending, surpassing the levels of 2007 by 15%. Global art market grew 12% over the year, generating revenues over €10 billion.
If art market is a bubble, it’s a very elastic one, since the business was going more than well in the past year, especially in the highest strata of the exchange. Prices of over €10 million were reached by 13 praised contemporary pieces, one of which was the Koons’ Dog. Names of this rank are now considered a safe investment, despite the volatility and changeability of the field, dictated by galleries, curators, art consultants and other trendsetters. Planetary increase of extremely rich investors contributed to this current, who enter the art business allured by excellent yield rates, increasing the demand.
Observing art market flows in the past decade, a significant jump in popularity and demand of contemporary art is evident, as the global price index for contemporary art rose by more than 70%. Today, five times more artworks are sold than a decade ago, at much higher prices. Contemporary makes over 15% of the total market -, 6% more than 10 years ago. Only last year the first billion (in euros) was reached, while this year it was beaten by selling pieces for €1.5 billion, showing a 33% annual rise, where rise over the decade comes to a stunning 1,078%. The difference in the accumulation of revenue is incredible, whereas the top 100 contemporary artists brought €1 billion in one year, much more than €102 million a decade ago, when only nine contemporary pieces surpassed the million-mark. Overall auction turnover of the top three artists was €35.8 million, while today it comes up to €339 million. Prices seem to be only getting higher, while the significance of the artist’s name is maintaining its sacred status.
Name is still everything in the high-end market and once the hype is created it does not exhaust easily. The three best performing artists of last year resulted in 800% increase in sales over one decade, driven mainly by extensive investment. The high end sector does make only 0.32% of the total art market, but it’s heavily covered by media and prone to more speculation than any other.
Three names that top the auction rooms are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool. Their works alone make about 22% of the contemporary art market. Koons boost alone is tremendous, comparing to his €2 million records about ten years ago, and the around €40 million today. Tens of millions are paid for their pieces, while these three names confidently rule the realm, with two of them still living and working. However, the overall ranking of the best performing artists does not differ much comparing to previous years. Basquiat, Koons and Wool appeared on top in 2012-2013 report in the same order, but as Basquiat’s annual sale total remained at €162 million, Koons’ and Wool’s escalated. Koons’ total increased by 186% in one year, amounting to €115 million, and Wool’s reached the €61 million mark, with a 142% increase. Still, there is a hermetic side to auction turnover reports, since the best three artists are all from the USA, supported by a very developed and powerful gallery and curatorial world, namely Gagosian galleries, garnering thirteen hammer prices of over €10 million last year, out of 26 works sold for the super-price.
The accumulation of wealth in China has definitely influenced the global art market, and more and more Chinese names are included in the Artprice top lists of best selling creatives. One of them, at the 4th place of the Top 500, is Zeng Fanzhi, an artist from Beijing who seduced the collectors with his visceral, expressive interpretations of modern society in China. British artist Peter Doig comes after, followed by the expected Richard Prince and then by the acclaimed German painter Martin Kippenberger. The infusion with European and Asian artists does come as a refreshment in the aforementioned trio’s domination. But, one should very much be aware that the next six spots, from 8-13 of Top 500, all belong to Chinese contemporary creatives, perhaps announcing a different era in the global art market soon.
High end market though appears to be named that for a good reason - it all comes down to how many millions is paid for ‘whom’. While fresh contemporaries still struggle in the auction room, the established superstars do not exude any tremor in performance ArtPrice reports. On the contrary.