Demand for Contemporary art is in many ways “bulimic”. But which media are the most sought-after? How has supply and demand for paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and prints evolved and what are the most profitable segments for auction operators? Our analysis is based on artworks sold between mid-2012 and the end of June 2013.
The rapid growth in supply and demand of Contemporary art and the concomitant development of the segment’s high-end has in fact benefited all its media. Besides the constant new records generated by traditional paintings on canvas, drawing is the second hottest medium on the market. The number of drawings sold worldwide this year reached a record (over 10,700 lots for the period July 2012 – June 2013) that was seven times higher than the number of drawings sold over the same period 10 years earlier. The growth in the segment’s revenue has been five times faster than that… representing thirty-six times the volume of turnover generated over the same period ten years earlier and increasing no less than 25% this past year compared with the previous year (July 2012 – June 2013 versus July 2011 – June 2012 ). Several factors have underpinned this growth: in the West, inflation on the painting segment has naturally pushed many buyers towards the more affordable drawing segment, and in China, a tidal wave of Contemporary ink works has hit the market with a significant impact on the segment’s global turnover.
Drawing is also the Contemporary art medium with best balance between supply and demand since its unsold rate is the lowest in the segment (32%). Painting is still the most expensive medium, nowadays generating records in the tens of millions of dollars. The only other medium capable of generating similar prices is sculpture. Three-dimensional works – often ‘monumental’ at the high-end of the market – have gained in value by 915% over the past decade, driven by the big names of Contemporary art such as Takashi MURAKAMI and Jeff KOONS. Over the twelve-month July 2012 – June 2013 period, Jeff Koons generated over $38.8 million from sculpture alone, roughly equivalent to France’s Contemporary art auction turnover total for the same period. However, Jeff Koons, works in a variety of media and the impact of his signature is much more powerful than the medium he chooses to work in: at Sotheby’s major New York sale of May 14 earlier this year, a photograph of Koons as a child in a back-lit frame fetched $6 million more (including fees) than its high estimate. The buyer paid a total of $9.405 million ($8.25 million at the hammer) to acquire the first “portrait of the artist as an artist”. The photograph in question carried the title The New Jeff Koons and is an enlargement of a photo of Jeff Koons as a child, serene in front of his box of crayons, looking frankly at the camera. According to Jeff Koons, the photo captures the moment when he felt he was an artist for the first time. The price paid is a clear example of the skyrocketing prices driven by the “celebrification” of the art market’s top-selling artists.
Although compared with ten years ago, the Contemporary art auction segment sells 7 times more drawings, 4 times more paintings and 5 times more sculptures; photography still has plenty of room for improvement. In fact, over the past decade, the number of Contemporary photographs sold rose 2.4 times and the medium’s turnover increased by 317%. But the medium’s unsold rate is the highest in the Contemporary art segment at 42.3% compared with 39.6% for the prints category (also often produced in limited multiples). It would appear therefore that the quality and the type of photographic works offered still need to be refined.