A new era for the art market
A five-part summer series analyses the current state of the global fine art and antiques market
An estimated €43 billion was spent worldwide last year on fine art and antiques. The Irish public may have grown weary, sceptical or even, understandably, blasé about the term “billions” but this is a vast sum being spent on what are, essentially, luxury and nonessential goods. It’s a huge global market that spans swanky art auctions in London and New York where a single painting can cost tens of millions, and modest antiques fairs in Irish provincial hotels where little collectibles can change hands for a tenner.
Despite, or perhaps because of, global economic uncertainty, the international fine art and antiques market is in vibrant health and attracting new waves of buyers, some seeking so-called safe-haven investments. The buyers range from fabulously rich Russian oligarchs buying trophy art to market-stall browsers hoping to find a Clarice Cliff teapot.
In June, Sotheby’s held a contemporary art auction in London which realised £75.8 million (€86.8 million). The average price paid for a painting was £1.43 million (€1.63m). Buyers from 38 countries participated in the auction, many by telephone or online. Despite the huge sum of money generated, the auction was not especially newsworthy. Similar sales, with equally astounding prices, have been taking place in London and New York.
A month earlier, Christie’s held a Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in New York where bidders spent a staggering $495 million (€386m) the highest total in world auction history.
Outside the hothouse world of the art market, most of the 20th-century artists including Basquiat, Lichtenstein, Pollock, Rothko may not – yet – trip off the tongue as easily as Degas, Monet, Renoir or Van Gogh but they are among the new global superstar painters whose work is sought after by the world’s richest collectors. Some of the prices paid were quite stupendous. Number 19, 1948, one of the famous abstract drip paintings by the American artist Jackson Pollock, made $58.3 million (€44m);Woman With Flowered Hat (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein made $56.1 million (€42.4m); Dustheads (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat made $48.8 million, (€36.9m) and Untitled (Black On Maroon) by Mark Rothko made $27 million (€20m).
After the sale, Christie’s auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen said: “We are in a new era of the art market. Pictures are making prices we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.”
Such auctions represent the pinnacle of the international market for fine art and antiques which is almost evenly split between public auctions (47 per cent) and sales through dealers and galleries (53 per cent).
The figures are from a report, published in March, commissioned by the European Fine Art Foundation. Its author, Irish woman Dr Clare McAndrew, is a cultural economist specialising in the fine and decorative art market and the founder of the research and consulting firm Arts Economics.