What is a Contemporary Art Auction?

The world of modern art is changing. Just visit a contemporary art auction for a clue. Unknown artists find the value of their works quadrupling within years. Chinese and Indian artists are finding greater audiences, and wealthy patrons of the arts aren’t just paying thousands – they’re paying millions.

Traditionally, an artist’s older works garnered higher bids and more frenzied requests. However, painters like Brice Marden are changing the status quo with a whole collection of recent, sought-after work.

The top 10 contemporary artists, whose works sold for over $5 million at auction, are as follows: Lucian Freud, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Brice Marden, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly. Other artists (in the $1 – $4 million range) to look out for include: Chuck Close, David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Ryman, and Wayne Thiebaud.

Jasper Johns, one of the highest paid modern artists, can’t seem to keep up with the demand. He paints two projects each month (which will sell for no less than $1 million), but the waiting list is still long. Entertainment giant David Geffen paid $40 million for “Gray Numbers” a few years back and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art allegedly paid over $20 million for “White Flag.”

John’s colorful paintings touch upon Americana themes — with lots of flags, maps and targets – with subtle messages that affect every onlooker differently. If a collector is fortunate enough to find a Jasper Johns in an art auction house, then there’s no telling how much it’ll sell for.

One can’t help but wonder about what accounts for the noticeable trend towards modern art? Most of the buyers (42%) at the Sotheby’s contemporary art auction continue to be Europeans, with the US trailing at 19%, and Asia / Middle Eastern sales at 12%.

It seems that the high price of the pound is hurting many Americans more than the credit crunch, but London’s weekend auctions saw many advances from interested Indian and Chinese buyers looking for a piece of cultural heritage. For instance, two bidders fought over Yue Minjun’s “Execution” for six minutes, which finally sold for a record breaking $2.93 million. Likewise, one of Putu Sutawijaya’s paintings (“Silent Road”) sold for $350,000 (11 times its estimated price) at the Borobudur Auction!

The art world is changing from the traditional swanky event, complete with fine wine, cheese and fashionable attire – to one of sitting behind the computer screen, credit card in hand. While it may seem impersonal to some, it’s advantageous to others, who have the ability to hop between sites, checking the fair prices for the particular work they’ve got their eye on. After browsing online catalogues, art lovers can get a good idea of what’s available in the up-to-date marketplace, and then make the best purchase later at a contemporary art auction.

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