Just 25 artists are responsible for almost half of all postwar and contemporary art auction sales, according to joint analysis by artnet Analytics and artnet News. In the first six months of 2017, work by this small group of elite artists sold for a combined $1.2 billion—44.6 percent of the $2.7 billion total generated by all contemporary public auction sales worldwide.
Our findings quantify what many market-watchers have long observed: As increasingly wealthy buyers compete for a shrinking supply of name-brand artists, the art market has become highly concentrated at the top. Nevertheless, the reality—that the work of just 25 artists generated almost as much money at auction as the work of thousands of other artists combined—may be even more extreme than some realized.
Winner Takes All
“The contemporary art market is a good example of a ‘winner-takes-all’ market, where a very small proportion of artists is responsible for a very large market share, and a very large proportion has a very small market share,” says Olav Velthuis, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. The same phenomenon is evident among athletes, actors, and musicians, he notes.
The list of the most profitable 25 artists includes blue-chip Pop and Abstract Expressionist names like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Cy Twombly, as well as living artists like Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, Christopher Wool, and Mark Grotjahn. The only women to make the list were Agnes Martin and Yayoi Kusama. Read more