Art Word – Sparky Sales and Circuit Breakers

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Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ (1895) was sold at Sotheby’s in New York for a record $120m in May/Photo courtesy: Financial Times

Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ (1895) was sold at Sotheby’s in New York for a record $120m in May/Photo courtesy: Financial Times

Economically speaking, 2012 was dismal in many parts of the world, but the art market again demonstrated astonishing resilience, racking up records at the top end and maintaining some momentum at the bottom end, even if the middle market found the going tough.

Overall, according to the art site Artprice.com, sales of fine art at auction until just before Christmas were more than $9bn, and are expected to top $10bn once complete figures for the year are in. This shows a contraction compared with 2011’s record-breaking $11.8bn, but nonetheless should beat 2010, the second-highest grossing year with $9.5bn.

Contemporary art rules the roost

2012 was notable for the continuing strength of the market for postwar and contemporary art, with a bias towards the “blue-chip” end. Impressionist and modern art, once the bedrock of the market, is being edged out by contemporary. While the highest price ever given at auction was set this year by Munch’s “The Scream” (1895), at almost $120m, postwar and contemporary art represented 33 per cent of the market in 2012 with just over $3bn, up from 28 per cent in 2011.

Though modern art (and Old Masters) potentially offer the highest prices (just look at the $250m paid for Cézanne’s “The Card Players”, 1895, in 2011) the inventory is more limited in these sectors. Contemporary art offers better supply, and the strong market for postwar artists has brought many works to auction: Bacon’s “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes” (1963), £21.3m in London in February; Rothko’s “No 1 (Royal Red and Blue)” (1954), $75.1m in New York in November; and Jackson Pollock’s “Number 4” (1951), $40.4m, at the same sale.

To read more of the Financial Times’ article, click here.

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