The art market is a world in itself, and often goes unmentioned within the discussion of what art is being created, but it is an undeniable force which is driving what is being created now. In 2014, the market had a record year, with Christie’s leading the way, having announced art sales of $8.4 billion, up 17%, for the year ending December 2014. This figure is the highest total for Christie’s or any art company in the history of the market. As the top 1% is expected to own half of the world’s wealth by 2016, according to an Oxfam study. Increasingly, the world’s wealthy are choosing to spend their money on art.
The biggest sales were in the Post-War and Contemporary Art market, which is where the pop stars and icons of art currently reside. Yes, Andy Warhol comes to mind, and yes, he was one of the top sellers for 2014. His “Triple Elvis [Ferus Type],” a silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, painted in 1963, sold for $81,925,000 at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on November 12, 2014, setting the record for the highest sale for a single work of art. During the same evening, Warhol’s “Four Marlons,” a painting featuring a quad of four sepia-toned images of Marlon Brando, painted in 1966, fetched $69.6 million.
Commenting on the sales, Christie’s international head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Brett Gorvy, said what drives prices so high is the presence of “five, six or seven buyers who are competing to spend 50 or 60 million dollars on an object.” The heavy hitters are still mostly from the established white male demographic, but there are some new buyers from the Asian market. Most up and coming artists are also white males, so the buyers in the art market really do affect which artists are getting any attention. The highest selling artwork by a female artist in 2014 was Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1.,” which sold for $44.4 million — a price three times larger than the previous auction record for a female artist. Still, this is less than 1/5 of the price of the highest all-time art sale, Cezanne’s “The Card Players,” sold in 2011.
One trend on the rise is Online-Only Sales. Works sold from Online-Only Sales at Christie’s totalled $35.1 million, a 60% increase from the previous year. This record was driven by the 78 eCommerce sales held across 21 different categories. Buyers on the online platform came from 69 countries with 32% new to Christie’s and 42% of new buyers under the age of 45. This is presumably where the future of the art market lies. A proliferation of websites curating, sharing, and selling artwork have been cropping up. Artsy is one; some others are Tondo, Fine Art World, and Mirror Cube, each with a different focus, either on high-end sales, artist community, or buyer’s community. Most of these have some kind of blend of art and social networking.
Asian clients boosted the market with a global spending increase, but the Asian market itself dropped in sales from last year. This means that there are more Asian buyers, but they are choosing to buy internationally. However, the world auction record was set for any Chinese Work of Art sold by an International Auction House. The work was “Thangka,” an Imperial Embroidered Silk piece made between 1402 and 1424. It was later revealed that the buyer of the Thangka is Mr. Liu Yiqian, the well-known Chinese collector who is purchasing it for his recently opened Long Museum in Shanghai.
Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, oil on canvas, in three parts, and painted in 1984, pulled in $80,805,000 for Christie’s at the Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale in New York on May 13, 2014.
Cy Twombly’s Untitled, a work of house paint and wax crayon on canvas, painted in 1970, sold for $69,605,000, a world auction record for the artist, at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on November 12, 2014.
Édouard Manet’s Le Printemps, oil on canvas, and painted in 1881, set the world auction record for the artist, selling for $65,125,000 on November 5, 2014 at the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York.
The Ricketts Apple-1 Personal Computer, created in Palo Alto, in 1976, and sold on December 11, 2014 at The Exceptional Sale in New York for $365,000, marking a high for a computer sold as art.
Adriaen De Vries’ “A Bronze Bacchic Figure Supporting the Globe”, 1626, which sold at the December 11 Exceptional Sale, New York, for $27,885,000, setting the world record for any Early European Sculpture, and a world record for the artist.