Reportedly, in 2011, the nation of Qatar purchased Paul Cézanne’s painting “The Card Players” for more than $250 million from the estate of Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos in a private deal (Figure 1). As a result, “The Card Players” became the most expensive artwork sold in the world. Only four museums own versions of “The Card Players”: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Courtauld Institute in London, and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. With one expensive purchase, Qatar entered an exclusive circle of some of the most established cultural institutions in the world. Buyers of fine art traditionally hailed from Europe and the United States, but the current art market is marked by increased buyer interest from the rest of the world, as indicated by auction turnovers (Figure 5). As foreign millionaires run out of real estate properties and yachts to acquire, they turn to fine art. In 2007, buyers spending more than $500,000 at
“Works of art, which represent the highest level of spiritual production, will find favor in the eyes of the bourgeois only if they are presented as being liable to directly generate material wealth.” - Karl Marx Acquisition of expensive contemporary art is often prompted by desire more than financial necessity, further restricting the market to the wealthy and protecting it from financial instability. During the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, HNWIs in the United States, Europe, and around the world kept the art market bullish by putting money in the market in order to diversify their portfolios. According to the World Wealth Report in 2007, while wealthy people scaled back their “investments of passion,” the proportion of luxury spending on art increased as investors sought assets that would have value in the long term. In various studies of fine art as a financial instrument, it has proven to be a poor investment on the secondary market. Most art does not appreciate.
Because the demand for art is so exclusively centered on wealth, the art market was protected in the long term from the financial crisis because high net worth individuals were protected from the crisis. In fact, the richer got richer. In 2010, twenty-five American hedge fund managers earned over $25 billion while paying some of the lowest tax rates in the country. The art market is often said to be driven by four D’s: death, debt, divorce, and discretionary selling. In the face of waning confidence in the economy, potential sellers with no urgent need to sell fine art did not sell in 2008 and 2009. Furthermore, the recession prompted an aversion to wealth, both for security and a fear of appearing wealthy in a time of public crisis. According to The World Wealth Report by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, HNWIs scaled back on “investments of passion,” such as yachts, jets, cars, and jewelry. The drop in asset prices also prompted the reverse of the “wealth effect.” When the economy is
The art market bull run was epitomized by the two-day auction of 56 works by conceptual artist Damien Hirst at Sotheby’s in London on September 15, 2008, the same day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in New York. As the financial system began its collapse, the sale, titled “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” fetched more than £111 million ($198 million), a record for a single artist at auction. After the financial collapse unfolded on Wall Street and around the world, the Federal Reserve warned of recession in the United States while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicted that Great Britain may face a ten percent fall in houses prices and 200,000 job losses. As the credit crunch spread from banks to hedge funds to the real estate market to the streets, auction houses, which relied heavily on guarantees during the art boom, feared that the usually optimistic climate in the art market would take a turn for the worst. When confidence fell,
Auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s are one of only two commercial enterprises in the world whose sales results are reported in the major news media regardless of the importance or interest of the items on those sales. The other enterprise is the stock exchange. - Don Thompson, author In the high-end secondary sale art market, contemporary art is intriguing because of its sheer volume and profitability. About half of transactions, and a large proportion of secondary sales, in the art market are conducted by public auctions, which are controlled by the duopoly of Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The other half of art transactions goes through galleries and private transactions. Modern art, defined loosely as art created between 1860 and 1970, exhibited strong demand in 2011 auction sales, with 164,000 works sold worldwide – a record for the decade. These sales brought in total revenue of over $6 billion and represented 52 percent of global art auction revenue. Contemporary art, defined
This is business, it ain’t art history. - Brett Gorvy, Chairman of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Christie’s The beginning of the 21st century saw an unprecedented art market boom between 2002 and 2007. As shown in Figure 1, art prices grew dramatically during that time. In a fall auction at Christie’s in 2006, post-war and contemporary art sales brought in a then-record $200 million - only two years after a similar auction broke the $100 million mark. In 2007, Christie’s and Sotheby’s sold a total of $2.7 billion in post-war and contemporary art. That year, Christie’s had the highest half-yearly sales in art market history, which increased by 75 percent from the past year. Never far behind, Sotheby’s boasted the highest global turnover in its history “by a wide margin.” The Economist wrote about the art market in May 2007: "Sotheby's set a record total for a contemporary art auction this month, raising $254.9m in one night, including the highest amounts ever paid for 15