2013 sets highest total auction record in history

In 2011, global sales of art reached a record breaking $11.78 billion (approximately £7 billion). The following year, there was a slight drop, with sales topping $10.6 billion (£6.3 billion). This stutter was nothing to ring home about – it was still an astonishing total and in no ways suggestive that the art market had peaked. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. Year-on-year growth is never a guarantee.
And so, art galleries, collectors and investors remained at ease with their endeavours, purchasing with fearless confidence, so much so that their collective efforts in 2013 helped rack up $12 billion (£6.2 billion) in sales. This is the highest it has ever been in auction history.
In his foreword to his report on the market, Thierry Ehrmann, founder and chief executive officer of Artprice, described last year as being a record breaking year all around, characterised by the near implausible sale of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969). Alone, it went under the hammer for $142.4 million (£89.6 million) at Christie’s in New York, becoming the most expensive work of art at auction.
Although American and Chinese buyers continue to dominate sales, these landmark figures are being driven by the growing diversity of players in the market, explained Mr Enrmann. In particular, wealthy individuals and institutions from Russia, Asia and the Middle East are, with a “voracious appetite for flagship artists of the twentieth century”, helping transform the world of art.
A lot of positivity can be determined from this new environment. Most of all, it crushes any argument that rising prices – “where profit can climb several millions in a few minutes” – are symptomatic of a bubble. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Previously, critics could have reasonably said as much, as the art market has largely been the playground of a small number of affluent parties, without whom there would not be as many extraordinary sales as we’ve witnessed. Not anymore. As Artprice notes, today the backdrop is “nourished by a growing number of extremely rich buyers who have been won over to the high spheres of the art market for various reasons”.
“We are now seeing of new museums designed to make nations shine; private collectors rubber-stamping their pedigrees through the quality of their collections … and new billionaire buyers from whom the acquisition of a major work is simultaneously a personal adventure, a form of social enhancement and a prime investment,” the report outlined.
This new assembly of buyers have, for the last decade, developed similar tastes, with twentieth century art, especially post-war and contemporary, and largely in the medium of paint, highly sought after. It is most competitive, hence some of the outstanding records that have been set over the years.
As Artprice highlighted, the top 13 bids last year were for works of art made from 1930 onwards, and more so, out of the top 50 bids, eight were for living artists like Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter and Zeng Fanzhi, whose The Last Supper was the only twenty-first century work to feature in the top 50 (made in 2001).
“Rich collectors are thrilled to own a part of art history and to take part in discovering nowadays artists who will be tomorrow’s leading artists,” Armelle Malvoisin of Beaux Arts was quoted in the report as saying. “It is a matter of pleasure, prestige and investment; a combination that should yield more results in the auction room in 2014, driving prices up to new records.”
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