The artists

Although the Contemporary art market is constantly supplied with new works, it is still largely dominated by a handful of unavoidable signatures. The three most successful artists on the secondary market, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool (a podium that has remained unchanged for the past five years) generate almost 19% of the market’s total turnover, while the 4,268 Contemporary artists who entered the auction market for the first time last year generated just 2.3% of the segment’s turnover.

Market Share of the Top 3 artists vs New entries at auction

Market Share of the Top 3 artists vs New entries at auction - July 2005 – June 2016

July 2005 – June 2016

Nevertheless, within the core market there is plenty of movement and a number of rapid ascents and descents in the annual turnover ranking clearly reflect the impact of rapidly changing market taste, a tendency that is of course more pronounced in the Contemporary Art segment than in any other creative period.

Within a few years, a number of young artists have managed to seduce collectors at the expense of signatures who are much more established on the market. Nevertheless, this past year, collectors appear to have refocused their attention onto the more established artists and this refocus is visible in the individual auction performances of certain artists.

Best auction debuts

Last year, 4,268 Contemporary artists made an auction market debut, adding to the 8,248 artists already active on the secondary market.

While the hammer prices of debut sales are generally low (the average is $5,500), some artists have jumped directly into the global Top 500. In certain cases, the work in question was exceptionally rare and was eagerly awaited by collectors and in other cases the artist’s oeuvre was finally considered ripe for the secondary market. Both scenarios produced some remarkable debut auction results.

Top 5 auction debuts

Artist Auction Revenue Sold Lots Best result
1 XU Jin (1958) $564,144 1 $564,144
2 Barry X BALL (1955) $545,000 1 $545,000
3 Ella KRUGLYANSKAYA (1978) $431,878 6 $131,000
4 JIANG Zhenxin (1974) $388,161 1 $388,161
5 Pamela ROSENKRANZ (1979) $232,459 6 $61,574
July 2015 – June 2016 / ©

No work by the American sculptor Barry X Ball (b. 1955) had ever been auctioned before Christie’s finally offered Sleeping Hermaphrodite (2008-2010), a single piece of black marble that fetched $545,000 (10 May 2016 in New York). Similarly, the Chinese market showed a keen interest in the arrival on the secondary market of a first canvas by Xu Jin (b. 1958) and a first drawing by Jiang Zhenxin (b. 1974), which both exceeded their pre-sale estimates.

The auction debuts of two young painters, Ella Kruglyanskaya (b. 1978) and Pamela Rosenkranz (b. 1979), are both, in their own way, quite remarkable. The former, of Latvian origin and represented by the influential gallery Gavin Brown Enterprise, moved up to 322nd place in the ranking of Contemporary artists by annual auction turnover with six works sold at auction (none remained unsold). Kruglyanskaya’s arrival on the secondary market coincides with her first major retrospective at the Tate Liverpool (from 18 May to 18 September 2016). The Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz has also enjoyed stunning auction success since her participation in the 56th Venice Biennale. Five of her paintings and a reproduction sold in London at the three most prestigious auction houses, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips.

Born after 1980

In the last five years the auction market has seen the emergence of a generation of artists born in the 1980s. Supported by the most powerful galleries, these young artists are reaching price levels that would have been quite unimaginable five years ago. This market, as close as possible to the cutting edge of artistic creation and the latest trends, posts particularly large and rapid price jumps, on which some find clever ways to capitalize.

Many works by artists of this generation are surprisingly recent. Some hit the secondary market despite being created less than a year before being auctioned, an indicator of the Contemporary art market’s profound and historic mutation that Artprice and its sociologists has already described. Price volatility makes the market standing of these young artists particularly sensitive to periods of economic turbulence and the performance of some of these new stars has been impacted by the current market hesitation (see table below).

Top 5 artists born after 1980

Artist Origin Gallery (selection) Auction Revenue 2015/16 Auction Revenue 2014/15 Variation
1 Tauba AUERBACH (1981) USA Paula Cooper $6,085,090 $7,782,001 -22%
2 Oscar MURILLO (1986) COL David Zwirner $1,281,239 $3,214,632 -60%
3 Alex ISRAEL (1982) USA Gagosian $961,770 $4,107,031 -77%
4 Harold ANCART (1980) BEL Clearing $588,615 $686,414 -14%
5 David OSTROWSKI (1981) GER Simon Lee $460,584 $3,220,531 -86%
July 2015 – June 2016 / ©

Despite the context, several artists from this generation have been “revealed” during the last 12 months. These include the Belgian-American artist Harold Ancart (b. 1980) and the Americans Petra Cortright (b. 1986) and Math Bass (b. 1981) who generated respective auction totals of $588,000, $389,000 and $368,000. These totals put all three in the Top 500.

Not surprisingly, the art market’s major capitals generate the bulk of these young artists’ auction turnover: London (31%) and New York (26%) are the primary outlets, while Beijing (13%) and Hong Kong (7%) lead the sales in China. Lastly, thanks to a young and dynamic artistic scene, the Philippines has carved out a prominent place in this new market. Last year, 67 works by artists born after 1980 were auctioned there generating a total of over $1.1 million. The prices of Jigger Cruz (b. 1984) were particularly explosive: Blares of the Opposite (2013), acquired in 2013 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $24,000, fetched $122,000 at Leon Gallery in Manila.

Remarkable progressions

Several young artists have recorded strong auction results in the last 12 months. Their resistance to the market’s contraction proves that their popularity is much more than just a fad.

Progression (selection) in the Top 500

Progression (selection) in the Top 500 - July 2008 – June 2016

July 2008 – June 2016

In just four short years, the Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977) became one of the most prized signatures on the art market. He joined the Pace Gallery in 2013 and two years later he joined Thaddaeus Ropac. But it was his very noticeable participation at the Venice Biennale in 2015 that propelled him to the forefront of the Contemporary art scene. His sales literally exploded over the following 12 months. His recent auction record bears witness to the huge market interest in his work: $4.5 million for his The Sunflowers in 1937 (2014) at Sotheby’s in London on 10 February 2016. Last year Ghenie jumped from 62nd to 15th place in our Top 500 ranking of Contemporary artists by auction turnover.

The American artist Mark Bradford also had a very good year with an auction total of more than $16 million. On 14 October 2015 he generated the 13th best result of the year: $5.8 million (at Phillips in London).

Progression (selection) in the Top 500 Contemporary Artists

Progression (selection) in the Top 500 Contemporary Artists - July 2008 – June 2016

July 2008 – June 2016

During the last 12 months, three well-established Contemporary artists did particularly well on the secondary market: the Japanese artist, Yoshitomo Nara (ranked 6th), the Italian artist, Rudolf Stingel (7th) and the German artist, Anselm Kiefer (10th). All three reached new highs in the ranking with substantially higher turnovers: +74%, +11% and +27% respectively.

The three are all major figures on the global Contemporary art market with long auction track records, and it was precisely this profile that collectors returned to last year. These artists are looking more than ever like sound investments. Their prices haven’t fallen in the last ten years and demand for their work has always been strong and international.