Art Investing Is Big Business

The Art Market seemed to have forgotten its past and all of its reference points after the online sale of Beeple’s NFT Everydays (which sold for $69 million at the beginning of March). But the major New York spring sales showed that blue-chip artists (Picasso, Basquiat, Monet, Warhol, etc.) remain the real pillars of the international art market. Artprice reminds us that the fundamental principles underpinning the price levels of artists and artworks are still very much alive and relevant in 2021.

Auction price evolution of two paintings, one by Picasso the other by Basquiat (PRNewsfoto/

Thierry Ehrmann, President and Founder of and of its Artprice department, “The Art Market’s switch to digital – which substantially accelerated a little over a year ago – has not shaken the foundations on which this market has been developing for three decades. Its stable and rational structure quickly re-emerged as soon as Western countries began to emerge from the health crisis.”

Over $1 billion in three days

Whereas London’s sales were postponed by several weeks and were partly weakened by the implementation of Brexit, New York’s prestige sales were the first major art market rendezvous for over a year. This unique concentration of Modern, Post-War and Contemporary masterpieces, all offered in just a couple of days, rapidly reassured the market and its followers. The first lot hammered by Christie’s on 11 May, Night Vision by Alex da Corte (1980), doubled its estimate to reach $187,500.

Artprice has published an analysis of the results of this absolutely crucial week, which saw the first auction result above $100 million in two years:

Demand is both strong and selective

Christie’s and Sotheby’s both offered – just two days apart – canvases by Gerhard Richter, both titled Abstraktes Bild and both dated 1992, and almost of the same dimensions. The first sold for just under $7 million (below Christie’s $9-12 million estimate) while the second, from the collection of Mrs. John L. Marion, reached $23.3 million at Sotheby’s.

The substantial price differential between these two works, which have very similar technical characteristics, is extremely reassuring to Artprice, which sees it as an indication that demand is strong but attentive to the intrinsic quality of each piece as well as to their origin; a demand that is capable of adjusting its intensity and defying estimates.

Top 10 price hikes in New York (11-14 May 2021)
Salman Toor, The Arrival (2019): $867,000 (est. $60,000 – $80,000) 
Lynda Benglis, Knot / Hat B (1993):  $201,600 (est. $15,000 – $25,000)
Hernan Bas, Loving Nobly (2004): $94,500: (est. $9,000 – $12,000)
James Ensor, Untitled (1888): $143,750 (est. $15,000 – $20,000)      
Rashid Johnson, Anxious Red Painting (2020): $1,950,000 (est. $200,000 – $300,000)
Frank Stella, Polar Co-Ordinates III (1980): $47,880 ( est. $6,000 – $8,000) 
Alexander Calder, Le Buveur d’Eau (1967): $378,000 (est. $ 50,000 – $70,000)
Dana Schutz, The Fishermen (2021): $2,970,000 (est. $400,000 – $600,000)
David Hockney, Home-Made Prints (1986): $963,800 (est. $150,000 – $200,000)
Kees Van Dongen, Robert de Saint-Loup (1946-47): $143,750 (est. $20,000- $30,000)

After Beeple’s ‘freak wave’ in March, the ranking of the best performing artists at auction in 2021 has returned to its usual population of great masters. Beeple has now left the top 5 in favor of Claude Monet and Andy Warhol.

Top 10 artists by auction turnover (1 January 2021 – 15 May 2021)
1. Pablo Picasso – $252,155,000 
2. Jean-Michel Basquiat – $217,287,000 
3. Claude Monet – $129,984,000
4. Andy Warhol – $108,030,000 
5. Sandro Botticelli – $93,538,000 
6. Banksy – $83,540,000 
7. Beeple – $69,346,000 
8. Vincent Van Gogh – $63,253,000
9. Zao Wou-Ki – $57,529,000 
10. Roy Lichtenstein – $55,613,000