Art history

Photography… Big Turning Point

The turning point for the photography market came in 2007, when a series of world auction records were broken, and annual turnover increased significantly, reaching $102 million, up from $17 million in 2000. Photographs are easy to transport and store, and most of them are available on a small budget (50% of photographs sold at auctions are worth less than $2,000). Some buyers are attracted by the monumental scale of some contemporary photographic artists, reminiscent of large-format painting. As such, photography is attracting more and more buyers and collectors, and the number of photographs sold has more than quadrupled in 20 years, from 1,300 lots to nearly 5,000 lots in 2019.

In February 2007, a huge diptych by Andreas Gursky (99 cent II (2001)) was sold in London for $3.3 million, setting a new record for contemporary photography for several months. In November of the same year, the iconic “Cowboy” (2001-2002) by Richard Prince, 2.5 meters in size, was sold for $ 3.4 million. Jeff Koons is both the author and the hero of the most expensive photograph. His photography work The New Jeff Koons was sold in 2013 at Sotheby’s for $9.4 million. combining the photographic effect of presence with the power of painting, works like those presented by Cindy Sherman. Since then, she has been able to elevate photography to the level of a “noble” art form. Over 20 years, her work has raised $ 143.2 million on the art market, which brought her to 25th place in the world ranking of the most successful contemporary artists.

New landscape

In the early 2000s, the art market industry was looking to open up new places, new artists, and new clients in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the Middle East. The first reaction was large speculative buying until the markets in these countries reached a certain maturity and auction operators began to operate more intelligently and inclusively. As a result of the geographic expansion of the major auction houses, there has been a diversification of sales organized in Asia and the creation of specialized departments dedicated to non-Western art. Moving beyond its Western “autofocus”, the art market has opened up artists who were unknown 20 years ago.

In the early 2000s, Artprice had 467 auction operators selling contemporary art around the world, today there are 843 of them – thus, in 20 years the number of players in the market has doubled. During this period, the major British and American auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and Bonhams – sought to expand into new sources of growth from Asia to the Middle East.

One notable consequence of these moves has been the creation of an extremely dynamic global market for artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, George Condo and KAWS. The three main auction houses continue to dominate globally: Sotheby’s with 30% of global contemporary art turnover, Christie’s with 28% and Phillips with 11%.

But one of the main differences from the early 2000s is that they are now followed by seven Chinese auction houses, led by China Guardian and founded in 2005 by Poly International. Very quickly, China took third place in the global contemporary art market (23%), which it held for three years before taking first place (from 2010 to 2014).

For 20 years, the growth of Chinese turnover in the field of contemporary art has increased 65 times. Including Hong Kong (10%), China in 2019 forms 33% ($659 million) of the global contemporary art market, while the US share is 35%. Together, the two powers – China and the United States – occupy 68% of the entire auction business segment of contemporary art.

Growth in the turnover of the contemporary art market in major countries since 2000

USA: +1023%.
China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong): +64170%.
United Kingdom: +2870%.
France: +1107%.
Germany: +1300%.
Japan: no market in 2000, 6th country in 2019 ($22.9 million)

From Dubai to Doha

In the early 2000s, Dubai and Abu Dhabi began to invest enormous resources to become major cultural centers. In 2007, Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art Fair were created and a number of major cultural projects were launched: branches of the Louvre, the Guggenheim Museum, etc. Dubai, which became the capital of the Middle Eastern art market, attracted Christie’s and Bonhams in 2006. Qatar and the UAE enjoyed a golden age in 2008, but the market quickly fizzled out and a number of artists from the Middle East began to experience severe price deflation. For example, Najat Makki’s painting “What Happens Behind Closed Doors” was sold in 2007 for $52,000, five times the estimate, but five years later, only $19,000 was paid for the same work. The market came to naught, and in 2012 Bonhams completely stopped trading in Qatar.

At the time, it seemed better to focus on Doha, which Sotheby’s did in 2009. Emirates has become a major client of auction houses in an effort to replenish the collections of their new museums. The royal family of Qatar is credited with some of the most impressive deals of the 2000s. Their annual budget for the acquisition of art was $1 billion. In addition to modernist and post-war art, Qatar was also interested in contemporary art stars such as Louise Bourgeois, Takashi Murakami and Damian Hirst, whose exhibitions were successfully held in the country. However, three works by Hirst, offered by Sotheby’s at auction in Doha in March 2009, did not find their buyers. In subsequent years, activity continued to decline, and Sotheby’s stopped trading in Doha in 2018, preferring to develop its London department dedicated to the Middle East.