Top Artists of 2011—Both Chinese—Generate $1bn in Sales

Artprice released its tally of world auction sales earlier this month. That report is generating some headlines on Bloomberg with the revelation that Chinese classical artists have taken the number 1 and 2 position away from Picasso and Warhol. But what is so striking is that the two top auction names have cleared nearly $1bn in combined sales in 2011.

That number speaks to the exploding volume of auction sales in China. But that doesn’t mean China is taking away from the West. Even as Picasso was eclipsed his sales reached near record levels. So China’s gain is not Europe’s loss.

Here’s how Artprice puts it:

Asia not only accounts for the largest volume of global art auction revenue, but is also beginning to generate the best individual auction results. With more than 684 results above the million-dollar threshold hammered in China in 2011, that is already well over a hundred more than the US total (533) over the same period, and represents a 36% increase in the number of Chinese million-plus auction results versus 2010. […] Of the year’s 100 best individual results, 30 came from Hong Kong, Beijing and Hangzhou.

In 2011, the ultra-top end of China’s art market generated 51% of the world’s total art market revenue with approximately 1600 auction lots!

Alongside Asia’s and China’s geographical domination of the global art market, we have also seen a strong growth in the values of Asian artists since 10 of the world’s 15 most sought-after artists are of Chinese origin.

For the second time in 15 years, Pablo Picasso is not the world’s top selling artist (in 2007, Andy Warhol briefly occupied the first position in Artprice’s Top 10 ranking of artist’s by auction revenue) and comes only third in 2011 behind Daqian Zhang and Qi Baishi despite the fact that the Spanish artist generated a total of more than USD 320 million, his second best annual total (2010 produced his best-ever annual total).

Zhang Daqian with more than $500m and Qi Baishi with more than $445m both managed to exceed the highest individual annual total ever generated by an artist (the previous record, $360m, belonged to Pablo PICASSO for 2010).