Contemporary Art Auction Turnover Up 2100% Since 2000

As collectors increasingly embrace Basquiat and Banksy over the Old Masters and 19th Century art, Contemporary art has become the main driver of growth for the global art market over the past two decades. The Contemporary Art Market Report 2020 recently published by Artprice analyses two decades of Contemporary art auction results, painting a portrait of a thriving segment which has responded and adapted rapidly to the unique challenges of the 21st century.

Back in 2000 Contemporary art had a marginal market share of just 2.9% on the global fine art auction circuit. In 2020 this figure hit 15%, with the Old Masters and 19th Century art shrinking to just 10% a piece. This fast-moving segment also beats the Old Masters and 19th Century art in terms of auction turnover; Contemporary art was worth just under $2 billion in 2020 up from a mere $92 million in 2000. Contemporary art has seen rapid broadening with artist numbers swelling from 5,400 in 2000 to 32,000 today and numbers of lots rising from 12,000 in 2000 to some 123,000 in 2020.

According to Artprice founder and CEO Thierry Ehrmann, changing passions amongst collectors and the adaptable nature of the segment account for this spectacular growth. “Nowadays, collectors no longer necessarily prefer work by dead artists, and they allow themselves to be convinced by new techniques, new art forms and new influences by living artists. Today, at a time of unprecedented crisis, the Contemporary Art Market is still galloping forward. Indeed, it’s the segment that adapts fastest to changes and the one that lends itself best to online sales.”

Driving the Contemporary art segment forward is a close-knit elite of just 100 artists whose works account for 75% of global auction turnover. Interestingly, just four artists, Basquiat, Koons, Hirst and Wool, are responsible for 20% or $4.4 billion of the segment’s global turnover over the past two decades. Leading the charge is of course Jean-Michel Basquiat whose seven-figure auction result in 1998 set a new record for Contemporary art. In 2017 a $110.5 million sale for a Basquiat painting clinched an even more exciting record for the most expensive artwork ever sold by a U.S. artist.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to subdued auction results across 2020, but Contemporary art has proved itself more adaptable to a changing world than other segments. With the rise of online auctions and viewing rooms, the art world is becoming increasingly accessible to newer and younger buyers who may not feel comfortable venturing into high pressure live sales. At Sotheby’s, for example, 30-35% of bidders at their online summer sales were new to buying art at auction.

Over the course of 2020 top sellers have included Francis Bacon’s Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus which went under the online hammer for $84.5 million. Also rising up the scale are works from newer stars like Jonas Wood and Nicolas Party whose still life paintings achieved impressive seven-figure online sales. With a growing passion for Contemporary art amongst younger collectors, we can expect to see continuing broadening and growth of this vital segment into the next decade and beyond.