Banksy, Devolved Parliament, 2009, oil on canvas, 250 x 420 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, Kabinett, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Uwe Wittwer. Image copyright and courtesy of Art Basel.
Michael Armitage, The Conservationists (2015). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Yoshitomo Nara’s Knife Behind Back achieved an astounding hammer price of HK$170 million. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s Press Office HK.
Yoshitomo Nara’s Not Everything but | Orange House (left) and Not Everything but | Green House (right) were the prize lots of Poly Auction’s Modern and Contemporary Art sales on 6 October. Image courtesy Poly Auction Hong Kong.
Sanyu (Chang Yu, 1895-1966), Five Nudes, painted in 1950s, oil on masonite, 120 x 172 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s
Interior view of Art Stage Singapore, 2017. Image courtesy of Art Stage Singapore.
Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum Project. Image copyright and courtesy of Centre Pompidou.
Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain. Image courtesy of FIAC.
As 2019 draws to a close, we look at auctions, art fairs and art market trends this year that reaffirmed the current state of the art market and the world or took us all by surprise.
TEXT: CoBo Editorial
IMAGES: Courtesy of various
Set against a volatile and unpredictable global outlook, 2019 proved to be an intriguing year for the art market, to say the least. The art market’s gaps and strengths stood out in more glaring light than ever and surprisingly, it is not an entirely ugly sight. In a recap of all the ups and downs, we looked at 10 global and regional art market trends that stood out this year.
KAWS and Banksy Are Not Going Away
The global art industry is clearly infatuated with artists who have backgrounds in graffiti, street art, vinyl toys and documentaries. Artnet’s 2019 Intelligence Report stated that 45-year-old Brooklyn-based artist KAWS outsold Jean-Michel Basquiat with 480 KAWS works hitting the market in the first six months of 2019, compared with just 57 works by Basquiat. Collectors paid around US$5 million more in the first half of the year for works by KAWS than they did for Basquiat.
Let’s not forget the record-breaking US$12.1 million sale of Banksy’s Devolved Parliament (2009) at Sotheby’s London in October this year. Closer to home, industry experts cited the key event that marked this trend in the Asia art market was the white-glove sale of NIGOLDENEYE vol. 1 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong earlier in the year, where focusing solely on street artists such as KAWS and Virgil Abloh saw a 100% sale-through rate.
The Art Market Wants Young and New
At the most recent Art Basel Miami Beach, collectors were very interested in works by young artists such as Amoako Boafo and Loie Hollowell. Some of the artists which drew interest have not even had their first museum show. While on the auction side of things, ultra-contemporary categories (referring to artists born after 1975) posted its highest total over the past six years, with a 204 percent increase from last November’s sum. Catching the art world’s attention with his surrealist paintings at the Venice Biennale this year, 35-year-old Kenyan-born Michael Armitage’s record-breaking auction debut, with his painting The Conservationists (2015), went for US$1.52 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction in November 2019.
Artists are the Real Power Players Part I
While the most obvious and reported trend seems to be that blue-chip galleries are and will always be dominating the art market, industry insiders beg to differ. Jefferson Jong, director at art advisory Art Agenda, S.E.A., stated that “new typologies of art establishment will emerge and challenge the dominance of mega-galleries.” For instance, in October 2019, Banksy launched Gross Domestic Product, an online shop offering collectible merchandise. Amongst various caveats, the intended buyer is teased with the question “Why does art matter?” to determine their eligibility to purchase the product.
Artists are the Real Power Players Part II
Traditionally an artist would need to establish a reputation, present to a dealer, become attached exclusively to a gallery and once fully established, their work would be sold through auction. “This traditional route to the market has been dramatically altered by the advent of street art and the champions in that field who use social online platforms and websites to share and promote their work directly to the public. The Internet has become their tool to directly communicate with their buyers and the world at large,” said Sandy Ma, International Specialist, 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Phillips, Hong Kong.
Figurative Art is All the Rage
The top-grossing painting at Art Basel Miami Beach was a Marc Chagall sold by Hammer Galleries for over US$2 million. Of the 10 artists who made their debut in the sales cycle at New York’s Fall auction season, five saw their final prices outdo their pre-sale estimates by the largest percentage; Michael Armitage, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Genieve Figgis, Tschabalala Self, and Cheyenne Julien—all young figurative painters.
In Hong Kong, Sanyu’s Nu (1965) went for US$25.2 million at Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale on 5 October, smashing the artist’s previous record. The very next day, Japanese artist Yoshimoto Nara’s Knife Behind Back (2000) sold for US$24.9 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale, smashing the artist’s auction record nearly five times over—which was, ironically, set earlier that day by Poly Auction’s sale of Not Everything but | Green house. A month later, again in Hong Kong, Sanyu’s Five Nudes (1950) sold for US$38.72 million at Christie’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale after a heated 10-minute bidding war, setting a whole new auction record for the artist.
Cancelling Art Fairs is a Thing Now
The year began with Art Stage Singapore making headlines for announcing the art fair would not take place, less than 10 days before the opening of its 2019 edition. This was due to the company’s ongoing financial issues which has since led to bankruptcy, leaving exhibitors without compensation till today. In February, VOLTA art fair cancelled its upcoming edition eleven days before its opening due to “unforeseen construction work” at their venue Pier 92. The fair, which runs concurrently with the Armory Show, promised to fully refund all relevant parties involved.
This month, Berlin’s most prominent art fair, Art Berlin pulled the plug on all future editions due to shortage of funds and inability to secure a long-term venue. There has also been much back and forth about whether Art Basel Hong Kong will take place in 2020 due to ongoing domestic protests. In spite of organisers’ show of strength publicly, a new memo by parent company MCH dated 28 November, states that in relation to the Hong Kong fair, the company is dealing with “political problems because of the protests in the city.”
Fraud is Everywhere (And Without Consequence)
Just this month, the fraud investigation filed by Russian billionaire art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier was dismissed by a court of appeals in Monaco. This saga goes back to January 2015, when Rybolovlev accused the dealer of cheating him out of nearly US$1 billion by inflating the prices of 38 art transactions including the tycoon’s US$128 million acquisition of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in 2013. Then there is art dealer Inigo Philbrick, previously based in Miami and London, who has vanished following a slew of lawsuits, involving major companies and personalities across the world, filed against him since October for fraudulent behavior such as inflating the prices of artworks he sold.
Asian Collectors Developing a Taste for Western Art
In an interview in June 2019, with consulting firm McKinsey & Co, Christie’s Asia chairwoman, Rebecca Wei noted that “the new generation coming in from Asia is increasingly interested in Western art and contemporary art.” At Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 14 November, Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXII (1977), went for US$30.1 million to an Asia-based phone bidder who also snapped up Clyfford Still’s PH-399 (1946) at US$24.3 million. Mark Rothko’s Blue Over Red (1953), the second biggest lot of the evening, and Wayne Thiebaud’s Encased Cakes (2010–11) went to Asian bidders at US$26.5 million and US$8.5 million respectively. Phillips also set auction records for multiple Western artists such as Genieve Figgis, Bernard Frize, Stanley Whitney, Daniel Arsham and Felipe Pantone in their Asia auctions this year.
China’s Art Market is Big and (Still) Growing
While the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report for 2018 indicated that China dropped in total global shares of the art market from the second to the third position behind the US and the UK at 19%, Christie’s Asia chairwoman, Rebecca Wei observed that China’s market is very active and “growing year on year at about 20 percent…driven to a large extent by new buyers.” Greater China makes up about 70 percent of the business for Christie’s Asia. On the ground, there was a lot of positive buzz about China following Shanghai Art Week, West Bund Art & Design and the inauguration of the Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum Project in early November. Industry insiders also pointed out that Hong Kong’s current political situation would likely compel art establishments to consider an exit plan and Shanghai would be the natural option, adding to China’s art industry growth.
Viva La Paris
Thanks to UK’s Brexit struggles and its tax related issues, Paris is reportedly quickly rising to take the spot as “art-market powerhouse of continental Europe.” The week of international contemporary art fair FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) saw the opening of David Zwirner’s new space in the city. He is not the only one. White Cube is opening an office there while Pace is allegedly location scouting in Paris. FIAC was also bustling with Louise Bourgeois’ I Want To Be Sure You Love Me!! (2008) and Mark Bradford’s Painting 6 (2019) selling for US$1.75 million and US$1.2 million respectively, within the first few minutes of the fair. Pace gallery also sold out their booth within the first hour of the fair. Participating galleries at concurrent fairs in the city such as Asia Now also reported brisk sales. Industry insiders opined that given the atmosphere and the attendance at Frieze London versus FIAC this year, it makes sense that Paris is being championed over London, especially given Brexit issues.