Fairs United Kingdom

Survey reveals top 20 at auction

Artists with Gagosian and from China dominate Artprice findings

Basquiat’s Untitled (Self-portrait—The King), 1981, on offer for $3.6m at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art’s stand at Frieze Masters (B7)

Gagosian Gallery (FL, D7; FM, C5) and China are the two engines driving the contemporary auction market, according to a report published this week by Artprice. It lists the top 500 artists, born after 1945, based on international auction sales. The top 20 is, coincidentally, split between the East and the West, with half of the artists coming from China. Gagosian has exhibited 11 of the top 20—all of the Western artists plus Beijing-based Zeng Fanzhi, who is the second highest ranking artist overall, with global auction sales of €33.3m.

For the second year running, Jean-Michel Basquiat is the undisputed leader of the pack, with €80m in overall sales. The figures reflect the growing demand for the artist, who died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. Gagosian deals in the secondary market for Basquiat, who is now “in a different category—super blue-chip”, according to the New York collector Adam Lindemann, who is believed to own works by the artist. Basquiat’s total sales have grown from €54.7m last year, while his maximum hammer price almost tripled, from €5.4m to €14.3m. Recent auction highs include the record-breaking €16m sale of Untitled, 1981, at Christie’s London on 27 June. “At fairs, the artist I receive the most enquiries about is Basquiat,” says the New York dealer Christophe Van de Weghe (FM, D7), who is selling a 1985 work by the artist for $3.9m at his stand at the Pavilion of Art and Design fair.

Although Gagosian deals in some of the world’s most expensive artists, the gallery is better known for signing those who already have international recognition than it is for nurturing emerging talent. Gagosian “snaps up artists who make really good money”, says the art adviser Lisa Schiff, pointing out that, in most cases, the careers of Gagosian’s major artists were developed by other galleries when they were younger. One example is the US artist Christopher Wool, who jumped into third place this year from 15th in 2011, with his auction sales growing from €10.3m to €22.2m. The New York gallery Luhring Augustine built a steady career for the artist by going “out of its way to place his work in the right collections and organise museum shows”, Schiff says. In parallel to his market rise, Wool has received significant critical attention: his solo show at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris earlier this year will be followed by a career survey at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in October 2013.

More familiar names from Gagosian’s stable—Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons— have prominent places in the top 20. Although they remain market stalwarts, sales for Murakami and Koons are down: Murakami’s by a third, from €15.8m to €10.5m, causing him to fall from eighth place to 13th, while Koons’s auction turnover halved, from €30.2m to €15.2m. He moved from fourth to ninth place, swapping positions with Hirst, whose auction turnover grew from €14.9m to €21.4m. This seems more to do with volume than value: Hirst’s maximum hammer price almost halved, from €2.2m in 2011 to €1.2m this year. Underworld, 2008, a work from “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”, his solo auction at Sotheby’s in 2008, is being offered at Christie’s tonight with an estimate of £120,000 to £180,000—less than its sale price of £241,250 four years ago.

Cindy Sherman, whose show at the Gagosian gallery in Paris closed yesterday, is the only woman in the top 20. She has climbed from 12th to 11th place, with her auction turnover rising from €11.2m to €12.3m.

Chinese artists comprise half of the top 20, reflecting the economic strength of the country, which has overtaken the US to become the world’s largest art market, according to a report published in March by The European Fine Art Foundation (Tefaf). But as the Chinese economy shows signs of slowing down, Artprice’s figures reveal fluctuations in the contemporary market. The auction turnover for “brand name” artists such as Zeng Fanzhi and Zhang Xiaogang (in fifth place) has fallen significantly: Fanzhi from €39.2m to €33.3m and Xiaogang from €30.1m to €19.4m.

It is worth noting, however, that Artprice’s data includes Chinese auction figures, which can be unreliable as the numbers vary depending on whose research you read. Artprice said that China represented 41.4% of the fine art auction market in 2011, while the art economist Clare McAndrew put the figure at 30% in her report for Tefaf.

Top 10 contemporary artists at auction
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