2022: A record-breaking year for the art market

February 16, 20233 min read
2022: A record-breaking year for the art market
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Last year was a record-breaking year for the top levels of the art market in both sales and number of lots sold. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips had superlative year-end results. Christie’s global sales hit $8.4B, an art market record. Sotheby’s was a close second, with $8B in sales, still the house’s highest, while Phillips auction house also reported its best year, at $1.3B.

Driving those results were valuable collections and standalone, blue chip artworks with exceptional provenance.

Marquee sales

The most expensive artwork to sell at auction last year was Andy Warhol’s $195M portrait of Marilyn Monroe called “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” which was the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction by an American artist and the most valuable from the 20th Century. Placing second was “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)” by Georges Seurat, which fetched $149M.

Single-owner collections took center stage 

Some of the highest value sales in 2022 were driven by single-owner collections the fact that these artworks were once in the collections of prestigious, world-renowned art collectors is a significant driver of value, as demonstrated by Christie’s blockbuster sales of the collections of Peggy & David Rockefeller, Paul Allen, and Thomas and Doris Ammann, to name only a few. Provenance of the artworks, which relates to the ownership history (from creation of the artwork to the present), was also a major selling point for buyers who looked to acquire only “museum quality” pieces, as the head of our Art Team Rebecca Fine was quoted in the New York Times. Our Art Team calls this the “provenance premium.” 

Most notably, the unprecedented sale of the late Paul Allen’s collection of sixty artworks fetched $1.6B at Christie’s, breaking the record for the most expensive art collection ever sold at auction. 

Well-placed bets on blue chip art

Art advisor Thomas Stauffer told ArtNet News that, last year, the focus was on the high-end of the market, also called blue-chip art. 

“Established art acts as a safe haven for value preservation in uncertain times like this,” Stauffer said. “The massive success of the record sale of the Paul Allen collection with blue chip art is the evidence of that.” 

In fact, historically, blue chip art has shown great stability, even during stock market crashes, recessions and wars. During the last major global financial crisis, auction prices fell 30% less than S&P 500’s fall from its peak in October 2007. Significantly, by 2011, total art sales had fully rebounded and matched 2007 levels, but it took the S&P 500 an additional two years to reach pre-crisis trading levels. 

Contemporary art reigns supreme

The smallest of the three auction houses, Phillips, observed a 50% increase in the volume of Postwar and Contemporary artworks it sold, driven by sales of art by Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein and Pablo Picasso. Its sale of a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for $85M and a Cy Twombly painting for $41.6M were two stand-out results for the house.

Artist in focus

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982 was the third-most expensive artwork by the artist to ever sell at auction, fetching $85 million. Originally consigned by the Japanese e-commerce billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, the art piece yielded a 48% return on investment in just six years. Basquiat’s works are featured in several of Yieldstreet’s Art Equity Funds.

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