Picasso, Monet, Warhol, Basquiat, and Richter Lead Artists Powering the US$1 Million-Plus Market
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Picasso, Monet, Warhol, Basquiat, and Richter Lead Artists Powering the US$1 Million-Plus Market

Sun, Dec 24, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 3 min

Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Gerhard Richter top a list of 50 artists leading the momentum for works valued at US$1 million or more, according to a report released Tuesday by Sotheby’s and ArtTactic, a London art market analysis firm.

The list ranked artists with an average of five artworks of US$1 million or more that sold each year between 2018 and 2022 at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s—a methodology aimed at showing consistency. The analysis also considers sales value, liquidity, average prices, bidder confidence, and market momentum for each artist, and draws on Sotheby’s internal data on bidders and private sales.

Works by the top five artists alone made up more than a third of all US$1 million-plus sales at these top global auction houses in those years, the report said.

Shifts may be afoot, however. A “Power Rank” of top artists in the US$1 million-plus category, based on data from July 2022 to June 2023, “aims to identify artists whose markets show signs of growing momentum and interest,” the report said.

The top artists of this 12-month Power Rank are Jasper Johns, Lucian Freud, Paul Gaugin, Wassily Kandinksy, and Willem de Kooning.

“The Artists Who Power the $1 Million+ Market” is the second report by Sotheby’s and ArtTactic to explore this segment of the auction world, which proved to be “especially resilient” in 2021 and 2022, during the height of the pandemic and the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Despite representing a “small fraction” of works sold at auction, art that fetches at least US$1 million has “a tremendous impact on the market at lower levels,” the report said.

The analysis considers auction results at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s in four categories: contemporary (including Post-War), impressionist and modern, Old Masters, and Chinese works of art. The list of top 50 artists from 2018 to 2022 who are powering the US$1 million-plus sector also includes insights from Sotheby’s private sales and its bidding activity data. Though the latter information is from Sotheby’s alone, similar activity is likely taking place at other auction houses, the report said.

“We all know that the art market has never been as transparent as the financial markets, so any information we can give our clients in terms of trends, analysis, and insight will allow them to make more thoughtful and educated decisions about their purchases, whether they see them as an investment or are pursuing a passion,” Mari-Claudia Jiménez, Sotheby’s head of global business development, said during a roundtable discussion with her colleagues and ArtTactic CEO Anders Petterson that’s included in the report.

The rare insight into private-sale data revealed that works by Alberto Giacometti, in addition to Monet, Basquiat, Picasso and Warhol, made up nearly 80% of Sotheby’s private transactions in the first half of this year. From 2019 to the first half of 2023, these same artists represented only 44.7% of private sales.

Sotheby’s internal bidding data—also rare to see—shows a rise in bidding for works with estimates between US$20 million and US$50 million in the first half of this year. “Despite market uncertainty,” this lofty segment has attracted 6.1% of bidders in the market for works valued at US$1 million or more, up from 3.8% in 2022, the report said.

Nearly 75% of Sotheby’s bidders raised their paddles for works priced between US$1 million and US$5 million from 2018 to 2022, though the percentage slipped to 72.4% in the first half of the year as 13.8% of collectors bid on works valued between US$5 million and US$10 million (up from 12.5% in 2022).

ArtTactic dug deeper into this internal bidding data to understand what category of works these collectors favoured, where they live, and how old they are. The data “provides collectors with additional context to understand some of the drivers behind emerging trends,” the report said.

Among its findings: Contemporary art was favoured by 56.1% of bidders; North Americans bid the most, representing nearly 36.4% of those vying for works of US$1 million or more; and Generation X is making their mark, accounting for the largest share of bidders in the market at 40.2%.

This generational shift is significant. Younger collectors are more comfortable buying across art categories, from Old Masters to Contemporary, for instance.

“The data in the report shows that our collectors, even the youngest ones, are interested in the entire span of history,” Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s head of global fine art, said during the roundtable. “Education is such an important factor in the art market, and people are learning about art history in many different ways today.”

These younger collectors are interested in art in part because they are more exposed to it than previous generations, Lampley said. Private collectors today are exposed through the numerous art fairs they attend in addition to public auctions, which generations ago were attended more by dealers and others in the trade who then sold the works, she said.

“There has been a great effort to make people feel included in the art world and to make it accessible, both by galleries and auction houses,” Lampley said.

Notably, there are no women artists among the top five of the list of 50 powering the US$1 million-plus market, although four made the larger list. Joan Mitchell ranks No. 17, Yayoi Kusama ranks No. 19, Cecily Brown ranks No. 39, and Helen Frankenthaler ranks No. 47.


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Amid Geopolitical Concerns, Major Philanthropy Continues to Forge Ahead…Creatively
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Even amid two international conflicts and an upcoming U.S. presidential election, some philanthropic leaders are optimistic about the direction of overall giving through 2024.

Penta spoke with heads of several non-profits and leading philanthropists to gauge whether charitable giving will continue its reported slump from 2023 or rebound alongside renewed interest in various political and economic issues.

“Contrary to what some might expect, philanthropy has had resilience in these times,” says Stacy Huston, executive director of Sixdegrees.org, a youth empowerment non-profit based in Virginia founded by actor Kevin Bacon in 2007.

Huston’s view echoes recent data from the biennial Bank of America Study of Philanthropy published last year, which found that while affluent giving is largely down, the value of the average philanthropic gift is up 19%, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

The notion of what these gifts look like is changing, and is partially responsible for the growth. Philanthropy can be executed through more avenues than ever, whether through celebrity association, tech titans stewarding large endowments, or  athletes using their platforms to advocate for and create meaningful change.

“The industry and movement is creating new models, and you want to get it right,” says Scott Curran, CEO of Chicago-based Beyond Advisers. “No one should take their foot off the gas pedal.”

Curran spent a number of years with the Clinton Foundation in its infancy before leaving in 2016 to open his own consultancy, which focuses on philanthropy strategy at the highest levels. Curran and his team work with celebrities, athletes, multi-generational family foundations, and other affluent givers who need guidance in directing their philanthropic efforts. It’s a growing area of interest: Over half of affluent households with a net worth between US$5 million and US$20 million have, or are planning to establish, “some kind of giving vehicle” within the next three years, according to the Bank of America report.

Corporate philanthropy, rather than individual giving, is the cornerstone of Marcus Selig’s work as chief conservation officer at the National Forest Foundation, a Congressionally chartered non-profit based in Montana responsible for protecting millions of acres of public lands.

“Our outlook is business as usual,” he says, advising that giving may slow down, but not enough for the foundation to change course.

Factors such as political polarisation in the U.S. and the wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are pushing nonprofits to consider their niche, and how they might work with other groups, both on the corporate and philanthropic levels, Selig says.

“It leads to a little more sharing on the ground in what needs to be done,” he adds.

Steve Kaufer , founder of Massachusetts-headquartered e-commerce giving platform Give Freely and founder of TripAdvisor, says that the economy has a much bigger role in election years, as he looks to build and grow something that can act as a “counterbalance.”

“There’s a trend towards democratisation, and acting collectively can lead to greater impact,” he says.

Kaufer’s new platform hopes to leverage the everyday philanthropist through online shopping dollars to benefit major charity partners like UNICEF and charity:water, who earn funds as shoppers choose an organisation to benefit through an online clickthrough process.

“Whether a good year or bad year, e-commerce will continue to keep growing,” he says. “Nobody doubts that.”

Whether a legacy foundation, corporation or individual, the political landscape this year is requiring some to exercise caution as they consider what their own charitable actions might be and how it could be viewed more broadly. For the personal philanthropist, every move is now scrutinised more closely. On the nonprofit side, entities are exercising more due diligence to understand if a specific donor aligns with their mission and that there aren’t any underlying issues that could cause greater pushback.

“You have to be able to walk the walk,” Huston says. “For example, we’ve had to turn down very large donor checks from corporations because there’s a Reddit stream calling them out on their human rights practices.”

She adds that even a routine charity activation could now be aligned with a political party, and that adds complexities to how a higher-profile organisation like Six Degrees can activate, especially as the film Footloose turns 40 in 2024 (which Bacon starred in).

“A lot of organisations and states want to align themselves with this feel good moment, and we should be able to stand side by side with everyone, but we have to be aware,” she says.

Another topic attracting donor interest today is  mental health, an area that historically has been underfunded and under-resourced by philanthropy, according to Two Bridge partner Harris Schwartzberg, who has been closely linked to the mental health space for more than a decade.

Today, the issue for mental health nonprofits is less about resources and more about societal divisiveness and polarisation around the topic. There’s an “overwhelming demand” for solutions, but the space is in a “perfect storm” for the broader political issues to make things worse, Schwartzberg says.

In Curran’s opinion, the storms brewing are troublesome, but they are also creating new opportunities for corporate and personal giving. The  current state of philanthropy is one of “dynamic, expansive, and blurred lines,” meaning a careful blending of targeted giving combined with an understanding of the broader geopolitical landscape could lead to a successful overall philanthropic strategy.

“There are a lot of headlines that distract, but shouldn’t,” he says. “2024 needs more serious philanthropists than ever.”


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