2013 was the best year ever recorded in auction history (over $12 billion), with 15,000 new records for artists, or over 23,000 if first bids are included. So says Thierry Ehrmann, founder and CEO of art market information provider Artprice, in his introduction to the newly published Artprice report, The Art Market in 2013.
“This splendid year was shored up by a globalised demand, particularly with buyers from Asia, the Middle East and Russia, who played a crucial role in the market’s fine performance, and displayed a voracious appetite for flagship artists of the 20th century, landing them in a spate of records,” he said.
The report states that in 2010, the several hundred thousand results compiled by Artprice showed that the world of art had been drastically changed by the emergence of China into the market, with annual sales results that crushed those of the superpower America for the first time in history.
“For the fourth year running, China has held out on the US, because the results for 2013 have put it at number one yet again,” states the report.
“In China and the US alike, sales of art works have never been so vigorous. The total of global annual sales was up by 13%, rising from $10.6 billion to $12 billion, and the global price index gained 15 points last year, making for an overall rise of 80% in 10 years.”
The report disputes claims that the current escalating prices and frenzied competition are signs of a new speculative bubble.
“The art market no longer depends on a handful of wealthy buyers whose withdrawal from the game would cause a general collapse, but is now nourished by a growing number of extremely rich buyers who have been won over to the high spheres of the art market for various reasons,” it states. “We are now seeing the emergence of new museums designed to make nations shine; private collectors rubber-stamping their pedigrees through the quality of their collections; investment funds which sometimes revise their choices after nurturing micro-bubbles and productive to-ings and fro-ings over new names, and new billionaire buyers for whom the acquisition of a major work is simultaneously a personal adventure, a form of social enhancement and a prime investment.”
The report notes that eight of the fifty top bids in 2013 went to living artists and the Top 50 bids even include a 21st century work: The Last Supper (2001) by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi.
China’s revenues were up yet again in 2013 (+21%) despite an excellent year for the Americans (a rise of around 20%).
“The twin pole of China and the US controlled nearly 70% of the art market in terms of sales volumes, and the two superpowers were neck and neck,” states the report. “China, number one in the global market, posted a total of $4.1 billion; the US also achieved over $4 billion, thanks to a very wealthy globalised demand for names considered as trophies.”
Given this steady rise in power, the other market places were left far behind. At $2.1 billion, the UK generated half the revenues of the leaders. France, 4th in the ranking, made $549 million (4.5% of the market), followed by Germany ($207 million; 1.7% of the market), Switzerland ($159 million; 1.3% of the market) and Italy ($110 million; 0.9% of the market), the only ones who succeeded in passing the revenue threshold of $100 million.
“With an unsold rate of 34% in an overabundant offering, the market had never been so greedy in its history, digesting twice as many works as it did ten years ago,” states the report. “This shows how much broader it has become over the past decade. Sales totalled $12.005 billion, an absolute record in auction history – up by 13% compared with the vintage year of 2012* and by 2.3% compared with the previous record year, 2011, with revenues of $11.78 billion.”