The 2009 podium: Picasso, Warhol, Qi [02/23/2010 05:19]
As the art market convalesced in 2009, the world's top auction performers generated much smaller totals than in previous years. Regulars in the Top 10 ranking like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Edgar Degas or Claude Monet saw their annual revenues contract by 55% - 77% compared with 2008.
While Picasso and Warhol appeared frequently on the annual podium, it's the first time a chinese artist reached such heights.
1 – Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) – $121m
Pablo PICASSO regained his first place in 2009 despite losing 54% of his 2008 total. After a progression of +96% between 1998 and 2008, his prices contracted by 15% in 2009. The number of sales above the $1m line fell sharply from 39 in 2008 to 15 in 2009. His best result for the year was $13m for Mousquetaire à la pipe on 6 May 2009 at Christie’s. However, better results were expected from two works offered in the first half of the year, both of which were finally bought in. The failed sale of Picasso’s Instruments de musique sur un guéridon in February was particularly hard for Christie's who had hoped to generate a world record for a Cubist work. The estimated range of €25-30m (roughly $31-39m) was too high, despite the prestige of the work’s Pierre Bergé / YSL origins.
Although we expect the bought-in rate (30% in 2009) to diminish in 2010, certain paintings were still over-priced at the end of 2009. Picasso’s Tête de femme, announced at $7-10m by Christie’s on 3 November, was another which failed to sell.
2 – Andy Warhol (1928-1987) – $106m
Andy WARHOL moved up a step in the Top 10 despite an annual total down 55% in 2009 and an unsold rate of 33% for the year. The $106m total in 2009 is a long way from the 2007 score that gave the King of Pop Art first place in the auction revenue Top10. At the start of 2008, his price progression was particularly explosive (+585% over the previous decade). On 16 May 2007 Christie's generated his all-time price record when Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) fetched $64m. In 2009 he signed 13 results above the $1m line (vs. 43 in 2008) the highest of which was the best result of the year for post-war art. His 200 One Dollar Bills, dated 1962 and reproducing the face of a 1 dollar bill 200 times, was estimated at between $8m and $12m. On 11 November, it fetched $39m, Warhol’s second best-ever auction result. This result was even more astonishing given that the same work first changed hands for just $350,000 at Sotheby’s on 11 November 1986!
Indeed, throughout 2009, the auction houses relied fairly heavily on Warhol to lure buyers in a difficult market context. Before the sale of 200 One Dollar Bills, Warhol signed the best result at Christie’s Contemporary Art Paris sale in May. His portrait of Yves Saint Laurent sold to an Asian dealer for €620,000 (nearly $870,000). He also generated the highest bids at Christie’s Contemporary Art sale on 23 September (Flower, $895,000, New York) and at Sotheby’s (Campbell's Soup Can, $310,000) the following day.
3 – Qi Baishi (1864-1957) – $70m
QI Baishi’s modernity and highly efficient pictorial simplicity has fascinated many avant-garde artists and thinkers. Henceforward, the artist who Pablo Picasso considered "the greatest Oriental painter" (saying he didn’t dare visit China for fear of meeting Qi Baishi…) is at last among the world’s top-ranked artists in terms of auction revenue. His rise to the summit has gone hand in hand with the emergence of the Chinese art market since 2004. Moreover, Qi Baishi’s ascension has been a strictly Chinese story, i.e. without the involvement of the English, American and French auction houses. His results have been earned in Peking, Hong Kong and Shanghai, the Chinese equivalent of NY-London-Paris.
Qi Baishi is the only artist in the Top 10 who sold more works in 2009 than in 2008 (+73%). All his market indicators are in the green: his annual sales total has progressed 240% and his price index is up 29%. This superb acceleration has been substantially propelled by the success of a sale organised by Poly International on 22 November 2009. At that sale, a series of drawings entitled Flowers and insects sold for a record equivalent to $12.47m (Yuan 85 million, Peking). For a fleeting moment Qi Baishi was promoted to the rank of “most expensive Chinese Modern artist”, dethroning the hottest Contemporaries like Yue Minjun, Chen Yifei and Zhang Xiaogang. However, on the very same day the Chinese Old Master, Wu Bin – a landscape specialist who worked under the Ming dynasty – snatched the title when his nearly six-metre wide fresco entitled Eighteen arhats fetched five times its estimated price at the equivalent of $22.1m.