Every year Artprice publishes its ranking of artists based on auction revenue. At the end of 2007 the figures were remarkable: the market’s Top 10 had generated a combined total of $1.8bn, up no less than 50% on the previous year’s total. In 2008 the total was $100m lower than for 2007 at $1.7bn, a figure representing 20% of the total global art auction market on 1.5% of its transactions. This contraction mainly reflects the substantial fall in Andy Warhol’s revenue total for the year, with his works generating $236.7m in 2008 compared with $420m in 2007. However, the entry ticket to the Top 10 has again increased: the minimum score in the 2008 Top 10 was $91.8m compared with $87m in 2007, $59.6m in 2006 and $33.7m in 2005.
2007 already saw a significant ‘juvenation’ of the Top 10 with Andy Warhol taking Pablo Picasso’s almost customary first place on the podium. Ranked 7th, Jean-Michel Basquiat was the youngest artist in the 2007 Top 10, but there were no living artists with revenue totals as high as those generated by the grand masters of Modern Art. In 2008 that reality changed with the inclusion of the British artist Damien Hirst and the German artist Gerhard Richter (1932) in the Top 10. Richter had joined the Top 10 in 10th position in both 2002 and 2003 with revenue totals of respectively $27.6m and $28.3m. In 2008 his total auction score of $122m gave him 7th place behind Alberto Giacometti; but the most significant contribution to the ‘juvenation’ of the 2008 ranking came from Damien Hirst’s 4th place only just $6m behind Andy Warhol. His ascension to this position, with an annual revenue total exceeding that of Claude Monet, was a perfect illustration of the speculative mood of the contemporary art market before it was gripped by current crisis.
1 – Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973): $262m
In 2008, Pablo Picasso recovered the Top 10 leader position he lost the previous year to the “Pope of Pop Art”, Andy Warhol.Picasso’s prices (all mediums) have risen 96% over the last decade reaching a strong peak in January 2008. However, after four years of unflinching inflation, the modern master has not escaped the turbulence of the economic crisis and his index literally plummeted at the end of 2008 back to 2005 levels. With several works selling at their low estimates, others not selling at all… and one being withdrawn at the last moment, the autumn sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s were catastrophic for Picasso. On 3 November, buyers were expecting to bid for one of the artist’s important Harlequin paintings (1919) before it was withdrawn from the Sotheby’s sale. Owner’s “personal reasons”… or just prudence in a climate of financial instability? Three days after the aborted sale, Christie’s took 16 Picasso’s to the market at the New York’s Rockefeller Plaza. The star lot was a painting from the Surrealist period entitled Deux personnages (Marie-Therese et sa soeur lisant). Never previously seen at auction and in private hands since 1984, Christie’s was expecting $25m. It only just reached $18m. Picasso’s 2008 score of $262m is impressive, but it is still $80m behind his 2006 total. His best auction results (there were 39 above the million-dollar threshold in 2008) occurred between February and June with the highest being $17.1m for La Grue – a painted bronze from the early 1950s – which sold for $2.1m more than the high estimate given by Sotheby’s experts. The sale was successful, but it was still modest compared with the $26m fetched in 2007 for the bronze Tête de Femme, Dora Maar (at Sotheby’s NY).
2 – Francis BACON (1909-1992): $256m
Like Picasso, after several years of strong inflation, Francis Bacon’s price index reached its summit in January 2008. In just three years, his index rose a remarkable 514% (between January 2005 and January 2008) before dropping 48% over the subsequent 12 months. Nevertheless, Bacon’s 2008 revenue total was $11m higher than in 2007 when he came third, behind Picasso again, but with a gap of $74m instead of $3.6m in 2008. In 2008 Bacon’s best results were generated by Sotheby’s between February and May. Firstly with Study of Nude with Figure in a Mirror (1969), a nearly 2-metre work that emerged from a private collection in Paris. Sotheby’s devoted no less than 12 pages of its Contemporary Art sales catalogue of 27 February 2008 to this work which fetched £17.8m (€23.6m). Three months later, this performance was dwarfed when the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovitch acquired a 1976 Bacon triptych for $77m (€49.65m). Between February and the beginning of the 2008 summer season, six major works by Francis Bacon sold for sums in excess of $20m. The total proceeds from these sales were no less than $237m. After July, the tide turned. Over the following five months more than 20 Bacon works went unsold in Paris, London and New York, including one particularly punishing failure at Christie’s on 12 November concerning a large self-portrait from 1964 and priced at between $40m and $60m.
3 – Andy WARHOL (1928-1987): $236m
In 2007, Andy Warhol caused a sensation by beating Pablo Picasso for first place on the annual auction revenue podium with a total of more than $430m. In 2008, although Warhol came a respectable third place in the ranking, his annual revenue shrank by a massive $194m compared with the previous year which saw no less than 74 bids above the $1m line. These sales added 70% to his overall price index in just 12 months. Amidst the scramble to acquire works by the king of Pop, Warhol’s Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) fetched the exceptional price of $64m at Christie’s New York in May 2007. After such brilliant performances, demand for Warhol’s work lost a good deal of its momentum during 2008, and his price index showed a 27% contraction. This trend change not only reflected greater acquisition prudence, but also a degree of market saturation. In effect, the rocketing prices incited a large number of collectors to sell their Warhol pieces, flooding the market with nearly 55% more works than were offered in 2007. With approximately 1700 lots presented during 2008, the market was somewhat overwhelmed! In the wave of pieces that appeared there were close to 1,200 silk screen and other prints including portfolios of 10 Marylins (1967) or 10 Maos (1972) priced on average between $600,000 and $1m. This was an honourable price range for these products but still lower than the prices the same portfolios commanded a year earlier at around $1.5m.
4 – Damien HIRST (1965): $230m
British artist Damien Hirst’s ascension over recent years has been nothing short of spectacular: in 2006, Hirst came 58th in Artprice’s annual auction revenue ranking with a total of $16.8m. In 2007, he moved up to 15th place with a total of $76m and became the “most expensive” living artist in June of that year when his Lullaby Spring, a large metallic pillbox containing 6,136 individually painted pills, fetched £8.6m ($17.1m) at Sotheby’s. At the end of a year riddled with sales in the millions, his price index showed an increase of 1400% versus 1998. In 2008, two highly publicised sales further inflated his price index and tripled his auction revenue total of the previous year: the first in February was a charity sale « (RED) » organised by Sotheby´s at which his Where There´s a Will, There´s a Way sold for $6.5m. The second, on 15 and 16 September, was a one-man sale at Sotheby’s in London entitled « Beautiful Inside My Head Forever » that will go down in art auction history for a number of reasons, notably because Hirst effectively by-passed the traditional gallery network by selling directly through the auctioneer. In just two days of sales, the market absorbed 218 new works by the artist despite a very alarming financial and economic context. The sale also generated a new record for Hirst when his Golden Calf, preserved in formaldehyde, went under the hammer for £9.2m ($16.5m). After the success of this sale – which brought in £95.5m ($171.6m) excluding fees – the subsequent loss of momentum at the November sales also caught media attention: out to 13 works signed by Damien Hirst, 10 went unsold. The net result was a massive increase in his bought-in rate between September and December from 11% to 55%.
5 – Claude MONET (1840-1926): $174m
The Father of French Impressionism – Claude Monet – is a Top 10 regular. At the end of 2007, his annual revenue total stood at $165m. In 2008, the total was close to $175m. Major collectors compete to acquire museum-quality works that are increasingly rare and consequently increasingly expensive. In 2007, his best auction price was £16.5m ($32.7m) at Sotheby’s for a painting from the famous Nymphéas series (1904). In 2008, this record was twice broken, once in May in New York, and then the following month in London. The 1873 masterpiece presented at Christie’s in May – Le Pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil – was accompanied by an independent catalogue. In effect, Argenteuil’s now emblematic status as one of the principal meeting places for impressionist painters at the end of the 19th century helped push the bidding to $37m. In June, Christie’s almost doubled this score with a Bassin aux nymphéas painted in 1919 which fetched £36.5m i.e. nearly $72m.The price index of modern art’s figurehead suffers from considerable volatility as it moves to the rhythm of the rare masterpieces that occasionally surface at auctions. In 2008, the market for Monet’s work was generously supplied and the artist’s price index ended the year up 118% versus 2004. Among the 28 oil paintings offered for sale during the year, 17 fetched over a million dollars and 6 were bought in. In November, the failed sale of La cathédrale dans le brouillard was a major disappointment for Sotheby’s which had hoped to fetch $16m. Paintings from Monet’s cathedrals series very rarely appear at auction (only 5 in 25 years) but, given the economic and financial backdrop, the estimate appears to have been over-optimistic. The last painting from this series to be auctioned fetched a sum equivalent to $900,000 at Christie’s in 2001.
6 – Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966): $132m
Alberto Giacometti has not featured in the Top 10 since 2002. Last year his annual auction revenue was just half a million behind Claude Monet’s at $86m, placing him 11th in the ranking and it included an auction record for a 1947 bronze entitled L´Homme qui chavire. This spindly sculpture of a staggering man almost doubled its high estimate of $8.5m when it fetched $16.5m. The same subject had sold for $2.4m at Sotheby’s NY in 1998! In 2008, demand for works by Giacometti remained strong: two sales beat L´Homme qui chavire and his annual revenue total was $47m more than in 2007! In May 2008, his Grande femme debout II measuring almost 3 metres, cast by Susse in 1960 in 6 copies, demolished the previous record when it was acquired by the Gagosian gallery for $24.5m. At the same sale, Christie’s offered another major work by the artist entitled La Place II, a rare group composition consisting of five figures that the artist conceived after his New York exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1948. The work fetched $13m. The May sales alone produced a revenue total of more than $78m, with 12 lots each fetching over $1m. They also gave him a new record for his sculptures and another for his paintings. His oil on canvas entitled Caroline (1963) sold for $13m on 7 May at Sotheby’s, beating his previous record for this medium by $3m. In 1961, Caroline was already posing for Giacometti when he painted her portrait with a white background on a similar format (185 x 80cm). The work had previously been auctioned in 1993 at Sotheby’s New York where a happy buyer acquired it – below the estimated price – for just $320,000. Over the last four years, Giacometti’s price index has shown considerable momentum: up 341% between December 2004 and December 2008.
7 – Gerhard RICHTER (1932): $122m
The German artist Gerhard Richter also benefited from the market’s euphoria during the first half of 2008 and his annual revenue total was better than his 2007 score by $36m. Moreover, 2008 saw him break through the $10m threshold for first time… and on five separate occasions! The new record set on 27 February by Kerze (Candle, 1983) at Sotheby’s was quite unexpected. At £7.1m ($14m) the painting fetched three times its estimated price, earning an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience. This figure was unimaginable 10 years ago and was equivalent to his total annual auction revenue for 1998! The New York sales in May failed to beat the new record set by Kerze: on 13 May at Christie’s a giant abstract painting (250 x 400cm) fetched $13m and the following day at Sotheby’s an abstract composition (200 x 180 cm) went under the hammer for $13.5m versus an estimate of $5m. In effect, German collectors see their compatriot’s best works sold in London and New York: 95% of Richter’s revenue came from UK and US auctions, from just half the number of his annual transactions. Forty percent of his transactions took place in Germany, but they mostly involved prints, drawings and modest paintings compared with those offered by Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Over the last decade, Richter’s price index has shown a strong progression: $100 invested in a Richter painting in 1998 was worth an average of $780 in December 2008.
8 – Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917): $111m
Edgar Degas has not been in the Top10 since 2004 when he came 9th with a revenue total of $31.4m. In 2008, eighty-one of his works changed hands at public auctions, including twelve sales at over a $1m, generating a total of $111.7m. His dancers painted in pastel or cast in bronze are the most sought-after pieces: since 1999, his auction record had been $25.3m for one of his Danseuse au repos at Sotheby’s. In November 2008, the same piece returned to auction where it generated $33m, setting another new record for the artist!In proportional terms, his intimist works on paper – essentially dancers and female nudes – represented 67% of Degas’ 2008 auction sales, versus 20% for his sculptures and 11% for his paintings. The top price ever paid for a dance scene in oil (rather than pastel) was $7.5m – far behind the hammer price of the famous Danseuse au repos – and it was generated at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Sales in May 2008, beating the previous record for a Degas oil painting of £3.7m (roughly $6.8m) set in June 2004 for his Les chevaux de courses (racecourse subjects being another key Degas theme), again, at Sotheby’s. In sculpture, his most emblematic piece is La Petite Danseuse de 14 ans copies of which have generated sums above $10m on several occasions since 1996. In 2008, the highest price paid for a Degas bronze was $3.3m for Le Tub, cast by Hébrard in around 1921. The piece sold below its low estimate of $4m at Sotheby’s November sales in New York.
9 – Lucio FONTANA (1899-1968): $95m
Born in Argentina, Lucio Fontana adopted Italian nationality and founded the Spatialist Movement in Milan in 1948. His quest for material freedom took him towards a radical artistic language with, for example, monochrome works featuring slashes or holes in what he called his Concetti spaziali (spatial concepts) and his Tagli (slashes). He considered the slash an opening to emptiness… a lyrical gesture towards the infinite. Since the art market meltdown at the beginning of the 1990s, his price index has been growing steadily: between 1998 and December 2008 the progression was around 575%. In 2001 his price index acquired a new dimension with his first auction sale above the $1m threshold: one of his spatial concepts from 1954 doubled its price estimate when it fetched £680,000 at Sotheby’s in London (7 February). Since then, Fontana’s spatial concepts are frequently presented in Part One sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Sales of Fontana’s works above the $1m line substantially accelerated as of 2006, with nine in that year alone. In 2007, there were seventeen, including one for a ceramic work. The 60cm terracotta piece entitled Concetto spaziale, natura attracted bids up to $1.6m (Christie’s, New York, 16 May 2007). Inflation of his prices continued in 2008 with, for the first time in Fontana’s auction history, one sale above the $10m line. His latest record was generated at Sotheby’s London sales in February 2008 when Concetto Spaziale, la fine di Dio fetched £9.2m ($18.1m). In just three lots, two in February and one in October, his Concetti Spaziali generated $44m, pushing him ten places up the revenue ranking compared with his position a year earlier.
10 – Yves KLEIN (1928-1962): $91m
In 2008 the French New Realist, Yves Klein, made his debut appearance in the Top 10. Collected almost everywhere around the world, 34% of Klein’s works change hands in France, with a significant proportion selling at the Christie’s and Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sales in London and New York. However, as his best works tend to cross the Channel or the Atlantic, only 8% of Klein’s 2008 revenue was generated in France versus 88% came from the UK and the USA. One of the reasons for his success on British and American markets was Leo Castelli’s promotion of his works in New York from the late 1950s onwards.Over the last ten years, his price index has shown a progression of almost 387%. In 2008 Klein’s auction record was confidently smashed with three of his works each fetching more than $15m. His 2008 revenue total of $92m placed him ahead of Jeff Koons, one of the highest media-profile artists on the contemporary art scene (who totalled $89.2m).The rise in Klein’s prices substantially accelerated in 2000, year in which his monochrome R1 from 1958, embellished with ultra-marine blue sponges, set a new record by fetching $6.1m at Christie’s. Between May and November 2008, this record was beaten three times at Sotheby’s. His latest record was set by Monogold MG 9 (a golden monochrome) which fetched $21m – triple its estimated price – on 14 May 2008. At the same sale, another superb performance was generated by Klein’s monochrome bleu IKB 1 which fetched $15.5m. After the successes of May, the outlook for Sotheby’s November sale of another major work by the artist entitled Archisponge RE11 was less promising in a distinctly less favourable market context. However, the work which was extremely well preserved and perfectly dated (1960, the official birth date of New Realism), fetched another superb bid of $19m.