Record-breaking year for contemporary art

Antoine Froidefond
US artist Jeff Koons poses next to his sculpture 'Balloon Dog' during an exhibition preview at the Fondation Beyeler museum in Basel, Switzerland, on May 11, 2012 (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

Paris (AFP) - The contemporary art market, buoyed by high demand and massive growth in China, smashed through the $2-billion mark for the first time in a record-breaking 2013/14, according to new figures released on Tuesday.

In the year from July 2013, sales of contemporary art at public auctions reached $2.046 billion dollars, up 40 percent on the previous year, according to Artprice, a Paris-based organisation which keeps the world's biggest database on the contemporary art market.

This growth, despite a gloomy global economic climate, came as China pushed past America to top the world market by raking in 40 percent of auction earnings.

"As many pieces are being sold in China as in the United States, United Kingdom and France together," said Artprice in its annual report.

China now boasts sales worth $811 million compared to $752 million for the US.

Both nations held 33.7 percent of the market last year.

"Demand has increased significantly," said Artprice president and founder Thierry Ehrmann, adding that five times more works were being sold today than a decade ago.

"We have passed from 500,000 large-scale collectors after the war to 70 million art consumers, amateurs and collectors."

Thirteen pieces alone fetched more than 10 million euros ($12.8 million) each, compared with four in the previous year.

US artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died in 1988, Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool remain the market's biggest stars accounting for auction sales of 339 million euros.

Pop artist Koons, the subject of a major retrospective due to be held at Paris's Pompidou Centre at the end of November, currently holds the record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist ever sold at auction.

His "Balloon Dog" went under the hammer in November 2013 at Christie's in New York, for a record $58.4 million.

The rest of Artprice's top ten is made up -- in order -- of Zeng Fanzhi (China), Peter Doig (Britain), Richard Prince (US), Martin Kippenberger (Germany) who died in 1997, and three more Chinese artists -- Luo Zhongli, Chen Yifei and Zhang Xiaogang.

Zeng Fanzhi's 2001 painting "The Last Supper" was sold at auction in Hong Kong last year for $23 million.

Despite the presence of Basquiat and Kippenberger in Artprice's top rankings, the body's president and founder Thierry Ehrmann told AFP "the old adage that 'a good artist is a dead artist' was changing".

"For the first time, young artists voluntarily want to start on the second market," he said referring to auctions, as opposed to galleries, which are known in the art world as the first market.

"It's a real revolution. The two markets are in the process of merging."

Of the three top-selling contemporary artists, defined as artists born after 1945, Basquiat maintained his lead in 2013/14 with sales worth around 162 million euros while Koons and Wool clocked up 115 million euros and 61 million euros ($78 million) respectively.