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The unprecedented growth of the post-covid contemporary art market

· Art Market

After a year of global concerns, the market has resumed with bang.  We can already see the consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic, and thankfully they have not all been negative. Let's take digitalization as the most obvious example. During the long months in which galleries and auction houses around the world had to close their doors, this process has been kicked into high gear. The popularity of hybrid strategies adopted by galleries is no shock, and are particularly interesting for dealers. However, the other important consequence of the crisis is the dramatic growth of the contemporary art market. Indeed, if the market as a whole is returning to figures comparable to those before 2019. Today, Artsper reports in a few figures this incredible evolution of a post-COVID contemporary art world.

Unprecedented Figures

In the midst of the major international fair season, between Art Basel, Frieze and FIAC, Artprice has published its 2021 market report. And although it only concerns the first half of the year, the findings are already staggering. After a very sad year in 2020, contemporary art seems to have regained its colors and now even exceeds any other period of artistic creation. The key figure? 177%: the increase in turnover for this section of the market between 2020 and 2021 (source: ). This represents 102,000 works sold at auction at a total of 2.7 billion dollars, and this represents only the end of 2020 and the first part of 2021. These are unprecedented figures that break records set before the health crisis.

The evolution of contemporary art prices compared to those of other creative periods: a constant growth, but a real boom at the end of 2020!

Contemporary Art in Demand

Collectors are focused more than contemporary art. It now makes up almost a quarter of the total market: 23% to be exact in 2020 / 2021. And if we compare it to the beginning of the millennium, we see a growth that is even more breathtaking. In just twenty years, prices have increased by 400%. Take, for example, the painting In this Case by Jean Michel Basquiat, sold for 93 million dollars at auction this year, whereas it was worth 1 million in 2002. By way of comparison, the value of post-war works - although highly prized - has grown by less than half over the same period. Artprice attributes this phenomena to an ever-increasing supply, more affordable prices and, above all, a growing demand from collectors around the world. As digitalization eliminates geographic barriers and emerging markets become more important, buyers become younger and more numerous. They are making up the demand for contemporary art, which is indeed on the rise.

Alongside the greatest names in art history, 3 contemporary artists are in the top 10 artists who generated the most auction revenue in 2021

The Popularity of NFTs

There is another factor that contributes significantly to the crazy increase of post-covid contemporary art. First, the arrival of NFTs on the market. These digital works are not unanimously appreciated by art lovers, but they have already conquered the hearts of some high-level collectors. In fact, 9 NFT works have sold for million-dollar prices at auction this year, the first in history to go on sale being Everydays: 5000 Days by artist Beeple which sold in March at Christie's for $69.3 million.

A detail from Beeple's Everydays: 5000 Days, which has become historic because of its auction sale

Eyes to the East

Far from having been spared by the effects of COVID-19, the Asian markets are also experiencing an exemplary recovery. With 1 billion contemporary works sold, China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong) produced 40% of the world's business volume - more than the United States (32%) and the United Kingdom (16%). And leading the way? Hong Kong, which has emerged as a hotbed for post-COVID contemporary art sales. It is second only to New York in this field, with records broken for many artists and exceptional sales including major names like Richard Prince and Jean-Michel Basquiat (source: Artprice). Seoul and Tokyo are also beginning to import these great Western names into their contemporary sales. From now on, the artists who conquered New York and London have also spread their influence to Asia, to the joy of the market players involved.

The top 3 contemporary artists in the world in 2020-21, measured by auction records, featuring an American artist, an NFT artist and a Chinese artist

The Situation in France

Although France represented only 2.2% of the world's sales volume this year, it too is experiencing a prodigious evolution in post-COVID contemporary art (source: Artprice). After the success of the Art Paris fair in September, the 47th edition of the FIAC proved to be a brilliant hit. This proves not only the persistent attachment of collectors to physical events, but also - and above all - that contemporary art is also at the heart of market interests in France.

Under the canvas of the Grand Palais Éphémère in late October, thousands of buyers were wrapped up in the buzz of negotiation. The result? Many million-dollar sales, such as a Rauschenberg at $2.8 million at Thaddaeus Ropac, but also sales by younger artists such as Simon Martin at the Jousse gallery and Cheikh Ndiaye at the Cécile Fakhoury gallery (source : QDA 

The International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) welcomed nearly 50,000 visitors for its 47th edition (© FIAC)

Is this just the beginning?

Driven by NFTs, the boom of the Asian market and the ever-growing number of collectors, the rise of post-COVID contemporary art doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. With New York, Hong Kong and London dominating the global market, Western Europe continues with its own victories, illustrated by the success of fairs such as the FIAC. Is it a temporary boom or long-term growth? With new digital formats and digital platforms that break down borders, the circulation of works and information is easier than ever. In the world as well as at Artsper, contemporary art has not finished impressing us. 

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