Contemporary art Top 10


Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, the ten most expensive art works are in the spotlight.

This year, six artists share the Top 10 of the highest auction prices in the world for contemporary art (recorded since summer 2015). Six Western artists – as Chinese artists are are completely absent this time – fetched the highest prices at prestigious art sales in New York, the centre of the high-end art market, ahead of London.

Contemporary art Top 10
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) $57,285,000 Untitled (1982) 2016-05-10 Christie’s New York NY
2 Maurizio CATTELAN (1960) $17,189,000 Him (2001) 2016-05-08 Christie’s New York NY
3 Christopher WOOL (1955) $16,965,000 Untitled (1990) 2015-11-10 Christie’s New York NY
4 Peter DOIG (1959) $16,346,086 The Architect’s Home in the Ravine (1991) 2016-02-11 Christie’s Londres
5 Jeff KOONS (1955) $15,285,000 One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series) (1985) 2016-05-08 Christie’s New York NY
6 Peter DOIG (1959) $14,861,789 Cabin Essence (1993-1994) 2015-10-16 Christie’s Londres
7 Jeff KOONS (1955) $14,725,000 Balloon Swan (Yellow) (2004-2011) 2015-11-10 Christie’s New York NY
8 Christopher WOOL (1955) $13,914,000 Untitled (1990) 2016-05-11 Sotheby’s New York NY
9 Christopher WOOL (1955) $13,605,000 And If You (1992) 2016-05-10 Christie’s New York NY
10 Richard PRINCE (1949) $9,685,000 Runaway Nurse (2005-2006) 2016-05-10 Christie’s New York NY

Jean-Michel Basquiat is still very sought after

This year, a new world record for a Jean-Michel Basquiat was set with a museum piece from 1982 purchased for $57.2m by the Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa, while it only cost $4.5m in 2004 (at Sotheby’s London on 23rd June 2004). Today, the work of Basquiat is the only one able to generate an added value of over $50 million in ten years. This new record surpasses by almost 10 million his previous record, Dustheads (1982), which was sold for $48.8m in 2013 (at Christie’s New York). He is the highest selling contemporary artist in the world and his works generated $139.4m of auction sales between summer 2015 and summer 2016. Basquiat has established himself as the leader in the market, followed by Christopher Wool, whose 42 works generated $84m in 12 months.

Three works by Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool is one of the contemporary artists most in vogue at the moment. The market is particularly interested in a specific period in which he used screen printing to apply large letters on canvas (1989-1995). Wool collectors consider these works as his best but the market is now showing an interest in his later works. For five years, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons, Wool has been part of a triumvirate generating nearly 20% of global contemporary art revenues at auction. These three artists are represented by Larry Gagosian, the most successful art dealer at promoting contemporary artists.

Two works by Jeff Koons

Over the last three years, Jeff Koons has remained the record holder of the most expensive contemporary sculpture in the world, thanks to the $58.4m fetched by his three metre high Balloon Dog (Orange) on 13th November, 2013 at Christie’s New York. That year, the sale of Balloon Dog generated a turnover roughly equivalent to a year’s auctions in Japan. This year, prices were less spectacular, and the sum reached by Balloon Dog in 2013 was equivalent to the total of all Koons’ works sold since summer 2015 (nearly 120 works). This was still an outstanding performance however, as Koons generated annual sales greater than the whole contemporary art market in France. His best performance this year was for one installation of the Equilibrium series (1985), creating a sensation by selling for $15.2m, twice the price it sold for in 2014.

Two works by Peter Doig

The annual record of Peter Doig is certainly not his highest but is nonetheless impressive. The success of painting The Architect’s Home in the Ravine sold on 11th February, 2016 at Christie’s is indeed exceptional. This work has been put up for auction for the fourth time since 2002. It fetched $475,000 at Sotheby’s on 26th June, 2002. It was then bought for $3.6m in 2007 then for $11.9m in 2013, before reaching $16.3m on February 11th, 2016, multiplying its price by 34 in 14 years. Today, Doig has established himself as the fifth most expensive contemporary artist at auction, generating $44.6m from the sale of 63 works between summer 2015 and summer 2016. He is also the top American artist in the world in terms of turnover, with 42% of his sales made in the United States against 57.7% on British soil.

The return of Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan created a new world record this year, with the $17.1m sale of Him, a subversive work representing Hitler, as a seven year old child, kneeling in prayer. His previous record was crushed by nearly $10 million, although his career has been put on hold for several years. With this sale, he beats Damien Hirst in terms of annual turnover. Cattelan, who decided to stop his artistic career after an « ultimate » exhibition at the Guggenheim five years ago, is back with a vengeance! The ‘enfant terrible’ of contemporary art has just installed operational solid gold toilets entitled America for the use of visitors to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. He also returns with an exhibition at La Monnaie de Paris, entitled Not Afraid of Love.

Richard Prince completes the ranking

A work by Richard Prince, Runaway Nurse (2005-2006), completes the rankings with a sale price of $10m. Richard Prince is still a major player in the American art market. This year, he moved into the world’s Top 4 best selling artists in terms of annual sales, behind giants such as Basquiat, Wool and Koons. The sale of 69 works by Prince over a 12 month period generated $55.8m, thanks to paintings from the famous Nurses series and through his photographs which are still highly sought after. Three of his photographs sold for over a million dollars on 10th May, 2016 at Christie’s New York: the photograph Cow Boy (2000) sold for $3.5m and two other photographs from the Untitled (Fashion) series sold for $2.8m and $2.4m. The prices for Richard Prince’s work have increased phenomenally. This year, the sale of the painting Two Leopard Joke(1989) shows how much his work is sought after: acquired for $26,500 in May 1993 at Sotheby’s New York, Two Leopard Joke sold for nearly 180 times this price 13 years later.

Such price levels show that the high-end art market is not in crisis, and has grown spectacularly in recent years.