Focus on artists under 40 on the art auction market


A change of direction! With this new report, by shines the spotlight on the Ultra-Contemporary Art Market and focuses on the enthusiasm with which the market welcomes today’s new talents, as the “references” of tomorrow.

Indeed, the new energy with which collectors and auction houses are supporting the young generation today is worth dwelling upon: thierry Ehrmann, President and Founder of and its Artprice department, observes that “the youngest stars of Contemporary Art can become much more expensive than the great Old Masters in just a few years. Neither the rarity of a work nor the place of an artist in Art History seems to matter as much today as the feeling of novelty and the passion it arouses.”

If we look more closely at this phenomenon, we see it as both disconcerting (the speed with which young artists reach breathtaking prices) and fascinating, because it seems to integrate almost all the current trends of our time. These include NFTs, Street Art, African and African Diaspora art, and of course the vigorous and uninhibited promotion of women artists (at last!). This report on the Ultra-Contemporary Art Market therefore takes the position of focusing on artists under the age of 40 by analyzing their most recent auction results, those obtained during the first half of 2022.

We will be focusing on artists who are currently in their 30s or 20s, or, in some cases, even teenagers – whose auction results have multiplied the pre-sale estimates given by the major auction houses by ten, twenty or thirty times. We take an analytical look at the levers of these early successes and the role played by the galleries and the auction houses; but we also focus on the typology of the works that trigger such extraordinary enthusiasm… with the atmosphere in auction rooms sometimes bordering on intoxication.

Comparative auction turnover performances (July 2021 – June 2022) of Fine Art (as a whole), Contemporary Art (as a segment) and Ultra-Contemporary Art (as a sub-segment)

Comparative auction turnover performances (July 2021 – June 2022) of Fine Art (as a whole), Contemporary Art (as a segment) and Ultra-Contemporary Art (as a sub-segment)

Once marginal, the Contemporary Art Market (essentially works created by artists born after 1945) is establishing itself as the most dynamic auction segment of the entire Art Market, now generating 18% of its total turnover.

The year before last (July 2020 – June 2021) Contemporary Art generated an unprecedented $2.7 billion, a new annual record. And that vigorous performance has been repeated again this past year: $2.7 billion worth of Contemporary works dispersed between the summer of 2021 and the summer of 2022! The economic weight of Contemporary art has almost doubled in ten years, and if we go back twenty years, it has been multiplied by 31 times  (Contemporary art accounted for $1.4 billion in 2011/12 and  just $87.9 million in 2001/2).

This report focuses on the most ‘recent’ segment of a booming market, i.e. the exchange at auction of works created by artists who are currently under 40 – a segment often referred to as the “ultra-contemporary” art segment – which is currently more in demand than ever before. In the last twelve months it has attracted bids worth a total of $419 million, a figure that represents no less than 15.5% of the Contemporary art market at auction, and 2.7% of the total global Fine Art auction market.

The following pages analyze the most recent auction results of artists born after 1982, i.e. results obtained this calendar year, in the first semester of 2022.