The global art market hit record highs in 2021, with billions of dollars paid for works by Impressionist, post-war and contemporary artists, and much of it purchased by people whose wealth comes from cryptocurrencies or other technologies.
More than $ 2.6 billion (£ 2 billion) worth of artwork was sold in two weeks by major New York auction houses in November. Four works by Vincent van Gogh sold for $ 161 million, of which $ 71.4 million was paid for Cabanes en bois among olive trees and cypress trees.
In May, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1983 In This Case painting, 2 meters tall, became the most expensive painting of 2021 to change hands when it sold for $ 93 million. The November sale of 35 works from the Macklowe Collection – by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, among others – totaled more than $ 676 million. Landscape by Nicolas Party sold for $ 3.2 million, doubling the Swiss artist’s previous record.
“The art market is certainly sparkling. And I think the audience for art is bigger than it has ever been. We are seeing record levels in our 277 year history, ”said Charles Stewart, CEO of Sotheby’s auction house.
Art market experts say demand driven back in 2020 by the global Covid pandemic has been unleashed at the same time sought-after works of art go up for sale. “There has been an extraordinarily high level of quality materials on the market and it has caught the attention of buyers,” said Stewart.
It’s not just paintings that command huge sums of money. Last month, the Aphrodite of Hamilton, a Roman sculpture dating from the first or second century CE, set a new world record for an ancient marble sculpture when it was sold in New York City for nearly 25 million dollars, exceeding its presale estimate of $ 2 million. -3 million dollars.
Luxury auctions at Sotheby’s – including street clothes and skateboards as well as jewelry, watches, handbags, wines and whiskey – totaled more than $ 1 billion for the first time in 2021.
And a non-fungible token (NFT) of Everydays: the First 5,000 Days by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, sold for a record $ 69 million in March, making him “l ‘one of the three most treasured living artists,’ according to Christie’s.
“It is true that the market is at record highs and certainly exceeds most people’s expectations,” said Katharine Arnold, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s.
In contrast, the Old Masters market was less buoyant, with auctions last month down almost 20% from comparable sales two years ago.
According to the 2021 Contemporary Art Market Report, $ 2.7 billion in contemporary art was auctioned in the 12 months leading up to June, representing a “stronger, more diverse and denser market. than ever”.
Experts attribute the booming market to at least three, which may overlap, factors: young “crypto-driven” buyers; the growth of the Asian market; and the belief that art is a good investment in times of economic uncertainty.
People who have made their fortunes through cryptocurrencies and other technologies “are now participating at very high levels,” said Stewart. “They are young and they are global.”
In November, Sotheby’s first accepted live offers in ether cryptocurrency – favored by the digital art and NFT community – in the sale of two works by Banksy, Trolley Hunters and Love Is in the Air. They sold for $ 6.7 million and $ 8 million respectively.
Cryptocurrency payments had become “a viable alternative to fiat money,” Arnold said.
In November, a cryptocurrency group raised more than £ 47million, or 11,600 ethers, in days on its online crowdfunding page in an attempt to purchase a rare copy of the U.S. constitution. They were outbid by hedge fund boss and art collector Kenneth Griffin.
Buyers from Asia accounted for 40% of sales in the contemporary art market through June 2021, beating the US (32%) and UK (16%). The Asian market has “effectively become the world’s leading area for the exchange of contemporary works of art,” according to the Contemporary Art Market Report.
According to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Asian buyers account for a third of major international sales. Last year, Sotheby’s broke sales records in Asia, reaching $ 1.1 billion at the end of November.
Another factor supporting this market moment was that investors viewed “tangible works of art as stores of value” in an era of rising inflation, Arnold said.
She added, “I don’t think it’s a bubble, not at all. The conditions in the world right now are such that art continues to be a means of storing value. And there is constant wealth creation and new buyers entering the market. “
There had been a 50% increase in millennial buying and bidding at Christie’s sales in London in October, she said. “If the baby boomers were the ones who bought aggressively in recent years, we’re starting to see a generational shift, and that means growth isn’t just coming from new markets like Asia, it’s also coming from established markets like the younger generation gets involved.