The high-end art market continued to expand beyond the United States and Europe this year, particularly into China, where sales remained strong amid sluggish economic growth. Strong art sales reflect the uneven nature of the global recovery, in which the ultra-wealthy have bounced back more quickly than others.
“We’re talking about the activities of the 1%,” said Benjamin Genocchio, editor-in-chief of Art+Auction and Artinfo. “The storyline, in general, is of growing market expectations.”
The sale of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, dominated art and auction headlines this year, but the trend went beyond one big sale.
“Of the eight records that have been exceeded by more than a million euros this year, three of the works were sold in London, three in New York and two in Beijing, all by the world’s most prestigious auction houses: Christie’s, Sotheby’s, China Guardian and Poly International. Beijing is doing buoyant trade and with the help of Shanghai and Hong Kong, China is enjoying an acceleration of its new auction records,” according to the Artprice annual report [pdf] for July 2011-June 2012.
Although the largest sales were mostly made at the big traditional auction houses in New York and London, there’s been a global movement in the art world. In the US, Chicago and Los Angeles are homes to new art fairs and gallery outposts, said Genocchio. Sotheby’s opened a joint venture in mainland China and is enjoying Bejing’s tax free status. And in places where there’s little art to sell, the newly wealthy are having an impact with their purchasing power. There was a “wealth transfer that happened after the financial crisis,” said Genocchiio, and it left Indonesians, Brazilian and Russians “all competing with each other for these” works.
It’s not just sales of paintings that have skyrocketed, prices in art of all forms have risen, as well as auctions of jewelry, wine, and automobiles. The spending is “on par with 2007” and “completely detached from reality,” said Genocchio.
Top selling artwork at auction for 2012
1. The sale of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch set a record for art work sold at auction at $119.9 million when it was sold in May at Sotheby’s.
2. “Orange, Red, Yellow” by Mark Rothko sold for $86.9 million at Christie’s International in New York in May.
3. Another Rothko, “No.1 (Royal Red and Blue), sold for $75.1 million at Sotheby’s in November.
4. “Head of an Apostle” by Raffaello Sanzio, also know simply as Raphael, sold for ₤29.7 million ($47.8 million) at Sotheby’s in London in December.
5. Chinese contemporary artist Li Keran’s “Wan Shan Hong Bian” sold for 293.2 million yuan ($46 million) at Beijing Poly International in June. Although the artist is fairly unknown in the West, Keran Li work has increased in value at a faster past than works by Edvard Munch due to interest in the artist in China, according to Bloomberg.