There’s an historic perception in the art world that an artist’s real value is only known once they pass on. This ‘ultimate career move’ heralds the end of production, thereby enhancing the value of those works remaining in existence as they become more scarce in the eyes of collectors and the wider marketplace. Up until the early 2000s, it would have been nearly unthinkable to conceive that a living artist could dominate both primary and secondary markets whilst being alive to experience it first-hand.

Today, we see a new wave of collectors setting the pace, with auction records for contemporary art being set and then bettered again within 12-month periods, and living artists seeing their works soaring across dual markets.

ArtPrice provides its annual report on the global contemporary art market at auction with some interesting observations.

Driven by growing demand, the total volume of auction turnover generated by the Contemporary Art auction segment worldwide has doubled over the past decade. Twice the number of contemporary artists have appeared at auction in comparison to the previous decade, in addition to its 15% share of the global secondary art market as opposed to the 3% share contemporary art held back in 2000.

We have seen some momentous results for living artists at auction, with the record broken twice in the past twelve months. David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist achieved a record price of US$90.3 million on
15 November 2018, but its top position did not last long with Jeff Koons’ Rabbit achieving US$91 million on 15 May 2019. It marks the moment the market literally dropped its attachment to notions of historical hierarchy: the market now values the most sought-after living artists at the same levels as the confirmed monuments
of Art History.

But, how does this impact on the Australian art market?

Demand for Contemporary Art has expanded – both numerically but also geographically. Europe, the United Kingdom and America are no longer the only major players, with growth across the southern hemisphere becoming evident. On local shores, we’ve seen some incredible results for some of Australia’s top female living artists. Del Kathryn Barton achieved her two highest ever auction prices in 2018, whilst still selling out in her gallery exhibitions as expected. Cressida Campbell secured two top prices for watercolours in 2019, and, proving that multiples can be just as collectable as unique works, she also achieved her two highest results in 2019 for woodblocks. These four outstanding results were each more than double their corresponding lower estimates, indicating immense market demand.

In the public sector, we’re seeing more exhibitions of living artists at the forefront of our top museums’ calendars.  This year we saw contemporary photographer Petrina Hicks enjoy her first major survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which coincided with a new auction record achieved for her iconic image Shenae and Jade in July.

Inspired by this paradigm shift in market activity, Leonard Joel is excited to announce the birth of its annual contemporary art auction concept, Centum. Centum will bring together one hundred works by leading Australian contemporary practitioners, in an exhibition and auction which celebrates and contextualises the genre for the benefit of a wider secondary market audience.

We are currently seeking select, individual entries by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Cressida Campbell, Del Kathryn Barton, Paul Davies, Martine Emdur, Nicholas Harding, Brent Harris, Louise Hearman, Bill Henson, Sam Leach, Patricia Piccinini, William Robinson, Phillip Wolfhagen, and Michael Zavros for the May 2020 auction.

Please contact us if you would like a complimentary valuation.

IMAGE: Petrina Hicks (b.1972)
Shenae and Jade 2005 (detail)
Image courtesy the Artist and Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

November 2019