Contemporary Art Market

The Artprice portal publishes an annual report on the state of the global contemporary art market.

But in 2020, the global art market took a break, and Artprice took advantage of this to review the contemporary art market over the past twenty years as it is seen now, during the global crisis associated with the pandemic.

Up until the end of the 1990s, contemporary art was a marginal segment of the art market, but now it accounts for 15% of the global auction turnover of fine art and is the main driver of its growth: over 20 years, its growth was 2100%. Today, collectors are not fixated on the work of dead artists, they allow new artists to convince themselves with new forms, new methods, new guidelines. Some prices have risen so fast that MoMA, for example, missed the opportunity to purchase a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. At the same time, a new market for accessible objects with prints and print runs has been created. Inspired by pop art, contemporary art continues to democratize, engaging in dialogue with a wider audience. Street art has become a symbol of this: Banksy’s works are known all over the world. The revolution was the recognition of women artists of the younger generation, to which should be added the success of artists from Africa and the African diaspora.

In short, the contemporary art market has undergone a profound transformation over the past 20 years. It is clear that the pandemic that broke out in 2020 disrupted the rhythm of market development. Thus, in this pause, we can make a serious analysis of the metamorphosis of the contemporary art market, fraught with the greatest risks and greatest opportunities, before it resumes its full of surprises.

The contemporary art market is at its peak

For 20 years, the contemporary art market has undergone profound structural changes: more and more artists (from 5400 to almost 32 thousand represented today on the auction market), more and more works (from 12 thousand to 123 thousand lots). The market grew and expanded geographically (from 39 to 64 countries participating in auctions). Its growth has accelerated with the spread of remote transactions and is now the most dynamic and profitable segment of the entire art market. For 20 years, the number of auction houses participating in the auction on the contemporary art market has doubled, the number of sessions – three times, and the number of lots sold – six times.
The turnover of contemporary art auctions has already surpassed in volume such segments of the art market as the art of the old masters or the art of the 19th century. The works of some contemporary artists have already achieved the status of “historical treasures” and are valued in monetary terms in the same way as the greatest modernist artists such as Monet or Picasso. Basquiat is the owner of the first and last auction records of twenty years. One of his works in 1998 was the first for contemporary art to break the $1 million mark, and another in 2017 became the most expensive piece of contemporary art sold at auction (Untitled (1982), Sotheby’s, $110.5 million) – Basquiat’s auction record has grown 65 times in 20 years. During the same period, the average price of a work of contemporary art has tripled. This growth has made contemporary art the main driver of the growth of the global art market in the 21st century.

Contemporary Art 2000–2020: key figures

  •  6 times more artists and 6 times more lots.
  •  +2100% increase in auction turnover.
  •  Basquiat holds the world record for contemporary art auctions: $110 million
  •  Contemporary art now accounts for 15% of the global art market compared to 3% 20 years ago.
  •  China and the US account for 68% of the global auction turnover of the contemporary art market.
  •  Contemporary art has generated $22.7 billion since 2000.
  •  More than 60% of the contemporary art market falls on painting.

One of the main factors in the growth of the contemporary art market was the sudden appearance of Chinese buyers on it, the arrival of which led to a fundamental change in the market. The rapid growth of the Chinese economy has allowed some wealthy entrepreneurs to start collecting art, while others have started buying art to diversify their investments.

The rise of the “art business” sector in China was rapid and impressive, and included the emergence of specialized investment funds.

In imitation of the practice of the stock market, “stakes” in the works were offered with the aim of obtaining quick and significant capital gains. Large sums were invested mainly in the works of Chinese artists, which significantly increased their value.

In 2011-2012, the auction market in China sold twice as many pieces of contemporary art worth more than $100,000 as in all of Europe. Over time, many Chinese buyers have become serious collectors, whether it’s Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, Adrian Chen or Lin Han.

Some have set up private museums to house their collections, such as Budi Tek with his museum in Shanghai.

However, the growth of the contemporary art market was not only driven by China. It emerged as a consequence of the ongoing globalization of the art market. Prices rose for the work of leading Indian, Middle Eastern and Western artists. In New York and London began a series of new auction records.