In 2011, the global art auction market generated 21% more than in 2010 and there is not a single segment of the art market that did not progress in terms of turnover. Compared with 2010, Modern art added $1.2B, Post-war art added $372m, Contemporary art added $291m, Old Masters added $124 million and 19th century art posted an increase of $43 million. In addition, bulimic buying has not left any medium on the side-lines. 2011 saw the sale of more paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and even prints than 2010. Indeed, driven by the rocketing prices of the Chinese Old and Modern masters, drawing has really come into its own, with its annual revenue up by $1.318 billion over the year.

This year, Artprice’s annual art market report – based on 6.3 million auction results from 4,500 auction houses around the world and distributed to over 6,300 media organisations and international institutions every year in 7 languages – will focus particularly on China’s successful conquest of the global art market.

Contemporary art

The number of contemporary works of art sold has more than tripled over the decade. In 2011, more than 41,000 Contemporary works sold worldwide, a record number which generated a revenue total of over $1.26 billion compared with $87.7 million in 2001. Contemporary art certainly has the wind in its sails, but it has not become unaffordable since 62% of Contemporary works sold for less than $5,000 in 2011. However, prices are rising and the market’s high-end accounts for an increasingly large share of the total Contemporary art market.

In fact 2011 was marked by no fewer than 1,879 bids above $100,000, five hundred more than in 2010.

With annual revenue of $540 million in 2011, China shot right past the USA ($310 million), the usual number 1 in this segment: in the first half of 2011, Beijing became ‑ for the first time in art market history ‑ the world’s second marketplace for Contemporary Art auction sales, just behind New York and ahead of Hong Kong. Sales in the second semester confirmed the trend: it is now China that sells the most Contemporary art in the world and China also appears to be the market where supply and demand for Contemporary works are most appropriately matched.

Hong Kong and Beijing have emerged as true champions with lower unsold rates than the West (21.3% in Beijing and 21.8% in Hong Kong vs. 25.8% in New York and 34.8% in London).

Among the top-ranking Contemporary artists in the world, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang, Chen Yifei and Zhou Chunya provide merciless competition for American artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Prince and Jeff Koons, as collectors who attended the first Ullens sale on 3 April 2011 were able to witness for themselves. The sale of part of the collection of the great Belgian industrialist and art collector Guy Ullens Schoten was one of the highlights of the year. In fact, Sotheby’s had the best season in its Hong Kong history partly because of it. The American company posted a total of $167.9 million in April (from 705 lots sold in Hong Kong during the month) of which $46.679 million (excluding fees) from the 104 lots sold (out of 105!) at the Ullens sale. The sale produced new records for Hong Yu, Song Yonghong, Xie Nanxing, Wang Xingwei, GuanWei, Liu Wei, Geng Jianyi, Yu Youhan and Zhang Peili. The sale’s star lot, the triptych Forever lasting Love (1988) by Zhang Xiaogang, fetched HK$70 million ($9 million), the best hammer price ever struck for a Chinese Contemporary artist! This score of $9 million overtook Zen Fanzhi auction record of $8.6 million for his painting Mask series 1996 No.6 (HK$67 million) generated at Christie’s Hong Kong on 24 May 2008.

The quality of the works attracted not only Asian collectors but also many foreign art buyers.
There is still plenty of price headroom for Chinese Contemporary artists since Zhang Xiaogang is still far behind the four highest-ranked living artists of the past decade: Lucian Freud (Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, $30m, 13 May 2008, Christie’s NY), Jasper Johns (Flag, $25.5m, 11 May 2010, Christie’s NY), Jeff Koons (Balloon Flower (Magenta), $22.9m, 30 June 2008, Christie’s London) and Gerhard Richter.
On 14 October 2011, Gerhard Richter signed a spectacular result with his painting Kerze (Candle) which already looked expensive carrying Christie’s estimate of £6 million – £9 million. However, the auctioneer was right, because the final bid came in at £9.3 million ($14.6 million). The major retrospective of the German artist’s work at the Tate Modern in London at the time of that sale (Gerhard Richter: Panorama – 6 October 2011 to 8 January 2012) undoubtedly made a positive contribution to the level of demand. That extraordinary result gave the artist eighth place in the 2011 Top 10 artists by auction revenue.

Another test of the Contemporary market was the sale in October (12 -14) of 23 works by Damien Hirst in London. Only three works were bought in and the best pieces found buyers. The year’s best result for the standard bearer of the Young British Artists was generated by a Spot painting entitled Dantrolene which sold above its estimate at £950,000 ($1.5 million) on 29 June at Sotheby’s. Recall that Damien Hirst’s works proved a particularly sensitive barometer during the market contraction in 2009 when the artist’s auction revenue dropped to a fourteenth of his 2008 peak. The artist who gained the most from the 2006-2008 bubble with no less than 65 auction sales above the $1 million threshold in 2008, generated no more than 2 in 2009 and 9 in 2011.

Top 10 Artists
Having emerged as the world’s strongest art marketplace last year, it comes as no surprise to find China’s two leading artists now holding the top two places in Artprice’s global ranking of artists by auction revenue.
So we say farewell to Pablo Picasso who since 1989 had occupied first place on the podium seventeen times, of which thirteen in the last fourteen years. Indeed the dethroning of the Spanish artist has been particularly spectacular since not only has he been overtaken by Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian, he is also now behind Andy Warhol. This is the first time in 21 years that Pablo Picasso has not been among the top 3.
2011 definitively confirmed Chinese domination of the art market: with a more than 40% share of the global art market and six out of the world’s top ten best-selling artists, China is now incontrovertibly the world’s leader of the art market.

$11.5B: total global art auction revenue

The absolute record… the total exceeded $10 billion for the first time ever, and grew 21% versus 2010. This strong growth was sustained throughout the year. After a record first semester ($6.5 billion), the second half of the year was just as exceptional ($5.1B, the best second semester ever recorded).

34%: the 2011 global unsold rate

The global unsold rate has been above 35% since 2008. In 2011, it dipped below this threshold to 34.8% despite a 7% increase in the number of lots offered at auctions.

$57.2m: the best result of the year

This figure was not generated by Pablo Picasso, or Alberto Giacometti, or even Andy Warhol, but Qi Baishi who scored the year’s best result with Eagle Standing on Pine Tree; Four-Character Couplet in Seal Script when it fetched $57.2 million in Beijing on 22 May. Although 2011 did not see a new global record (in 2010 the global record was broken twice), it did see a large number of very high-end results.

1,688: the total number of results above the $1 million threshold

No new global record for a single work last year, but a 33% increase in the number of results above the $1 million line. And it comes as no surprise that China posted by far the best national score with 774 results. Indeed, Hong Kong alone posted twice as many million-plus results as for the entire Euro area!

69%: the percentage of lots that sold for less than $5,000

Over the last ten years, only two posted an “affordable works rate” below 70%: 2007 and 2008. It was therefore logical that in 2011 (which posted a number of similarities to those 2 years of strong art market growth) only 69% of the total lots sold changed hands for less than $5,000. In 2009 and 2010 the “affordable works rate” reached 74%. In 2011, the number of affordable lots did not diminish in absolute terms… it actually increased by 4.5%; but this expansion was slower than the rise in the number of high-end works offered. Asia, which accounted for 43% of the global art market, sold 19% of its auction lots for more than $100,000.

43%: Asia’s share of the global art market

The growth of the art market in Asia has been stunning. In the spotlight since China effectively became the world’s leading art marketplace in 2010, the year 2011 confirmed not so much the migration of the art market (which is still dynamic in the West) as a new situation of global art market bi-polarity. Aside from China’s astonishing 49% growth in art auction revenue in 2011, a number of other Asian countries also posted strong growth: for example, Singapore (+22%) and Indonesia (+39%).

$271,795,000: the total revenue of the year’s best auction sale: Sotheby’s, Contemporary and Post-War Art sale, New York, 9 November 2011

This is the best sale result since 2008, but had it taken place in 2007 it would only have been the third best result. The sale benefited from two new records for Clyfford E. Still, and a new record for the German artist Gerhard Richter. Only 17% of the lots remained unsold, and 41 fetched more than $1 million.

4th: France’s ranking on the global market with a market share of just 4.5%

France, third in 2006, has been in fourth place since 2007 since it was overtaken by China. In 2011, it maintained its fourth place although its market share was again eroded. Not much was done in 2011 to reverse this trend. Paris is now not only behind London and New York, but also Beijing and Hong Kong, and Shanghai (which posted growth of 21% in 2011) has reduced its lag by half and is now just $50 million behind the French capital.

58.5%: the share of the art auction market’s total revenue generated by the top “1%” of lots

In other words the most expensive “1%” of all lots sold generated 58.5% of the world’s total auction revenue in 2011. Hence, the remaining 99% of auction results generated less than half of the entire market’s revenue. Again, it is not surprising that China accounts for the largest share of this “1%” (50%) with the USA representing 23% and the UK 20%.

12,400: the number of new artists’ personal auction records

Excluding auction debuts, in 2011 more than 12,400 artists reached new auction summits including Qi Baishi ($57.2 million in 2011 vs. $12.5 million before 2011), Clyfford Still ($55 million vs. $19 million), Roy Lichtenstein ($38.5 million vs. $38 million), Egon Schiele ($35 million vs. $20 million), Salvador Dali ($19 million vs. $5 million) and Gerhard Richter ($18.5 million vs. $13 million).

18,000: the number of works offered for auction…