The 2019 Art Market Year in Review: Superlatives Edition

We turned to the Artnet Price Database for a yearbook-themed look back at this year's art market.

KAWS, THE KAWS ALBUM (2005). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

To celebrate the end of the year in the art market, we turned to the Artnet Price Database to present a special year in review featuring superlatives for 2019. Read on to see who had a good year, who had a humbling year, and who to look out for in next year’s class of 2020.

WORST CASE OF SENIORITIS

Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis (Ferus Type) was one of the most expensive lots of the year as it sold for $53 million at Christie’s New York, but the truth is it just barely cracked the top 10 prices for the artist. In fact, the last time the artist’s top lot record was broken at auction was way back in 2013, when Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold for $105.5 million at Sotheby’s New York. Even though he’s a market mainstay, all of Warhol’s top six highest prices have remained unchanged since 2014.

PROM KING

KAWS continued to bulldoze through the market (shocking, we know!). At Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April, the artist’s painting THE KAWS ALBUM sold for 15 times its high estimate for a hefty $14.8 million. Yet as buzzworthy as KAWS has been, his success could hardly be called a surprise. Even though he broke all five of his previous top five auction records this year, 2018 had also been a landmark year for the artist—his average sale price nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018.

BEST MAKEOVER

In a market surge few could have predicted, female Old Masters came into the spotlight with a boost from Sotheby’s New York’s “The Female Triumphant” sale in January. (Perhaps even fewer could have predicted that the sale would garner an endorsement from Victoria Beckham herself!) Headlining the sale was a masterpiece by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, which sold for $7.2 million and smashed the previous record for any work of art by a woman artist from the pre-Modern era. Some thought it was all a bit of gimmicky marketing, but with solid shows at the Prado and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, it looks like the women Old Masters are here to stay.

Victoria Beckham with Artemisia Gentileschi’s Saint Sebastian Tended By Irene at the exhibition for “The Female Triumphant” at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Newton.

MISS CONGENIALITY

The world sat up and took notice of a new arrival when Julie Curtiss’s Princess sold for more than 1,700 percent over its high estimate of $8,000, hammering at a whopping $106,250 at Phillips New York this spring. It was the very first time Curtiss’s work ever appeared at auction—less than a month after the opening of her inaugural solo show, no less. Talk about hitting it out of the park on the first swing.

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED

Charles White has been well-known to art historians and beloved by painters for years, and it seems the auction market is finally catching up. After MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago staged the first major museum retrospective of White’s work in late 2018, the market surged. Two of his works broke the $1 million mark for the first time at Sotheby’s New York and Christie’s New York this fall, and pre-2018, his highest price achieved at auction was $300,000.  White’s commercial recognition has been long overdue (even though the artist himself eschewed it), and his market is certainly one to watch in 2020.

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