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Chen Danqing’s Shepherds, 1980, sold for $25.2 million in Beijing this June.
Chen Danqing’s Shepherds, 1980, sold for $25.2 million in Beijing this June.

Contemporary Art Market Stages Rebound with Record-Breaking Sales

Following spring 2020’s sustained drubbing at the hands of the Covid-19 crisis, the contemporary art market has surged, with $2.7 billion in auction sales recorded between June 2020 and June 2021, according to Artprice, which released its annual report on Monday. The record-breaking figure follows on from the 36 percent dip in the market in the first half of 2020 and was thanks largely to a shift to online sales and to the rapid rise in popularity of NFTs, the former a response to global pandemic lockdowns, and the latter owing in part to the swift ascendancy of Ethereum and the resulting swell of newly minted young crypto-millionaires eager to invest in art.

Analysis of the sales contributing to the market boost revealed changing tastes, with works that translate well to the digital arena, such as photographs and prints, being snapped up by collectors. Sculpture sales, however, took a tumble, perhaps owing in part to a worldwide fear of touching strange surfaces—or any surfaces at all, really—as Covid, fueled by vaxx deniers and the Delta variant, continues to spread apace. NFTs accounted for roughly 33 percent of online sales, and about 2 percent of the total art market.

Also driving growth was the booming Asian art market: The report revealed that Hong Kong is now second only to New York as a contemporary art capital, and that China surpassed the US in terms of auction turnover, accounting for 40 percent of sales. The United States ranked second in sales, with 30 percent, and the UK third, with 16 percent. Artprice additionally pointed to a “Black Renaissance,” noting that strong demand for works by nonwhite artists was “transforming the landscape of the major museums, art fairs, private collections and the entire art market.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat remained the top-selling contemporary artist at auction, his work having generated $93.1 million in sales; in second place was Beeple, thanks to the March sale by Christie’s of his 2021 NFT Everydays—The First 5000 Days for a whopping $69.3 million. Third-place honors went to sixty-eight-year-old Chinese artist Chen Danqing. A US resident for over four decades, Chen saw his oil-on-board Shepherds, 1980, sell for a record-setting $25.2 million in Beijing this past June.