The Decade In Art, Christie’s’ and Sotheby’s’ Supremacy, and 2019 Highlights
As the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close, we reviewed our data and assembled the most valued paintings and artists of the decade and look back at 2019 as well.
It comes to no one’s surprise that Christie’s and Sotheby’s continued to dominate the secondary art market in the past decade, but the extent to which they did, might. It will be one of the most interesting factors to observe over the next decade, as more technological disruption will affect the way art is being bought and sold, how the two auction giants will attempt to retain their market supremacy. Sotheby’s’ announcement in June that it would be going private at a multiple of its valuation shows that its new owner, Patrick Drahi, is confident that he can expand the company’s value and might.
Of the 50 highest valued works that sold in 2019, only a single lot, Gerhard Richter’s Düsenjäger, 1963, didn’t sell at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, maintaining Phillips’ positioning as the third strongest auction house. Phillips is closely followed by Poly International, however, which, in the decade-perspective, is the first auction house to appear beside the top 2, in 57th place of the 2010s lot ranking, with an ancient calligraphy scroll by Huang Tingjian. Of the top 100 lots sold in the past 10 years, only four lots, three by Phillips and the above-mentioned lot by Poly International, didn’t sell through Sotheby’s or Christie’s.
The past decade was also the one, in which Postwar & Contemporary art definitively overtook Impressionist & Modern art in terms of sales value. According to MutualArt data, Postwar & Contemporary topped the market in each of the past 10 years, except 2010. This means that the market has finally embraced the newer works, but it must also be attributed to a much higher number of available lots, and to a neglection of second tier works from the Impressionist & Modern era, whereas newer, still less-regarded contemporary pieces have higher potential to break out.
This epic battle is playing out deliciously in the artist ranking. Pablo Picasso’s art raked in the most money during the 2010s, almost USD 4.5 billion. He is followed by Andy Warhol coming in at USD 3.65 billion, and Claude Monet at just over USD 2 billion. The middle section of the top ten is dominated by Postwar & Contemporary artists, with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gerhard Richter and Francis Bacon selling for totals of USD 1.86 billion, USD 1.82 billion and USD 1.5 billion respectively. They are followed by Chinese artists Zhang Daqian and Zao Wou-Ki, the former better placed within Impressionist & Modern, selling for a total of USD 1.46 billion, and Wou-Ki finding his place among Postwar & Contemporary painters, selling for USD 1.34 billion. Alberto Giacometti, totaling at USD 1.24 billion, and Mark Rothko with USD 1.19 billion are rounding off the lucrative list, which, aggregating the sums, gives Postwar & Contemporary artists another edge.
Accordingly, seven of the ten most expensive lots in 2019 belong to the Postwar & Contemporary category. Jeff Koons prompted the biggest headlines this year when his Rabbit, 1986, sold for just over USD 91 million, reclaiming the title of most expensive living artist, after David Hockney superseded him exactly 6 months before. Ed Ruscha scored a personal record in November, when his Hurting the Word Radio #2, 1964 sold for almost USD 52.5 million, the most expensive lot in super-auction week. But it was Claude Monet’s Meules, 1890, which sold for USD 110.747 million in May, thereby claiming the priciest lot of the year. Picasso and Paul Cézanne can also be found in the top 5 of 2019, showing that high-value Impressionist & Modern paintings do still guarantee the best profit.
That is even more evident when looking at priciest individual lots of the decade (full list below). Only two Postwar & Contemporary lots, Francis Bacon’s 3 Works: Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, and Jean Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982, made the list. Seven of the top ten lots belong to Picasso (two lots), Amedeo Modigliani — who secured himself the 3rd and 4th most expensive lots of the decade — Alberto Giacometti, Edvard Munch, and above-mentioned Monet.
The most expensive lot of the decade doesn’t belong to either of these categories of course. Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, circa 1500, has been captivating the art world for years and will likely do so for years to come. Whether discussion revolves around the question of it being an authentic Leonardo, or around the whereabouts of the painting, which hasn’t been seen since it sold in 2017 and is rumored to be on a Saudi yacht somewhere, it will be interesting to see whether the upcoming decade will see a new record for an artwork sold at auction. The astronomical sum of USD 450 million is certainly still a far way off for a ‘regular’ painting and the almost USD 300 million gap to Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), 1914, means there’s a good chance that Salvator Mundi will still stand at the top ten years from now.
It will also be crucial to observe how the Asian Modern & Contemporary market will develop and, if the trajectory of the last months and years continues into the ’20s, the market value of female artists and artists of color will have much to say about how the art market defines itself.
It is likely that looking back at the decade in December 2029 will be very different than today. While the art market has seen much change, the absolute technological disruption still hasn’t occurred and will probably do so in the coming years. How it will impact what we know about this market remains to be seen.
2010–2019 Top Lots
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