Global art sales plunged in 2016 as the number of high-value works sold dropped by half, while China regained its status as the world’s top market, Artprice said in an annual report released Monday.
Art auctions worldwide totalled $12.5 billion (11.8 billion euros) last year, down 22 percent from $16.1 billion in 2015, the report said.
The world’s biggest database for art prices and sales, working with Chinese partner Artron, attributed the drop to a plunge in the number of works worth more than $10 million each – from 160 in 2015 to 80 last year.
“On all continents, sellers are choosing a policy of ‘wait-and-see,'” Artprice CEO Thierry Ehrmann said.
Top-dollar auctions last year included that of an Impressionist painting of a haystack by Claude Monet, “Meule”, which went for $81.4 million at Christie’s.
A Peter Paul Rubens masterpiece, “Lot and his Daughters”, sold for $58.1 million, also at Christie’s.
Contemporary art had its stand-out moments, too. An untitled painting from American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat went to a Japanese collector for $57.3 million.
Wassily Kandinsky’s “Rigid and Curved” from 1935 went under the hammer for $23.3 million.
China as the biggest market
But it was China which chalked up the highest total sales and “established itself clearly as the superpower” of the art world, the report said.
After five years of dominance, the country lost its title as top art market to the United States in 2015, but a year later was back, recording $4.8 billion in auction sales.
That figure represented 38 percent of total world sales, said Artprice, which compiled the data with its partner firm Artron of China.
Traditional calligraphy and painting comprised the vast majority of sales in China.
The country’s biggest sale in 2016 was a scroll painting of “Five Drunken Kings Return on Horses” by early 14th-century Chinese artist Ren Renfa that went for $45.89 million.
But contemporary art sales, too, are becoming frequent in Hong Kong which “has become an unmissable spot on the art market,” Artprice said.
A year of consolidation
Despite the drop in overall value of sales, the global art market witnessed an 11-percent rise in “fine art” transactions, a category that excludes antiques, applied art like pottery, and furniture.
“The range of prices under $50,000 shows the strongest progression and currently makes up 96 of the market in the West,” the art database said.
In 2016, “the principal objective was to consolidate the core of the market, to the detriment of a new race to reach record prices,” it said.
New York City remained the undisputed capital for art auctions, chalking up $3.2 billion in sales, over Beijing’s $2.3 billion and London’s $2.1 billion.
Chinese artists were also the main moneymakers in the auction world, taking three of the five top spots for 2016 sales.
Works by China’s Zhang Daqian fetched the highest amounts, followed by 20th-century master Pablo Picasso, the Chinese watercolorist Qi Baishi, the “father” of Chinese contemporary art Wu Guanzhong, and the German contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. JB