Yayoi Kusama knocks David Hockney off the Contemporary Artist Top Spot

Tuesday, April 9, 2024
Yayoi Kusama knocks David Hockney off the Contemporary Artist Top Spot

Hiscox Artist Top 100 (HAT 100) report reveals latest trends in the contemporary art market based on the volume and value of works sold at auction.

Yayoi Kusama is the best-selling contemporary artist in 2023, based on global auction value. The number of female artists represented with contemporary artworks at auction has risen significantly (+179%) in the last five years, more art now being flipped but ‘wet paint’ sales bringing fewer financial rewards  Whilst four in every ten (39%) contemporary art lots sold in 2023 were by artists under 45, these accounted for just 21% of sales by value.

The report, which covers key trends in the market for contemporary art made since 2000, reveals Kusama’s works generated $80.9 million in auctions sales last year, toppling David Hockney (who sold $50.3 million) from the top spot. 

Last year female artists accounted for 32% of contemporary sales, up from 29% the year before.  The number of female artists represented with contemporary works at auction has risen sharply in the last five years, from 261 in 2019 to 728 female artists in 2023, up 179%. 

The value of sales of contemporary artworks made by women fell 8%, although the number of lots sold was up 21%. The market for female artists has been much more resilient than that of male artists, whose sales by value reduced by 20%.

The interest in female artists is expected to continue as the 2024 exhibition calendar for many high-profile galleries and museums reveals. Among these are the recently opened retrospective of Yoko Ono at Tate Modern, British artist Leslie Thornton at MoMA in New York, as well as exhibitions focusing on an older generation of female artists, such as; Tate’s Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain, 1520–1920 (May 2024), Camille Claudel at the Getty Center (April 2024), Mary Cassatt at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (May 2024), Harriet Backer at the Musée d’Orsay (September 2024) and Lygia Clark at the Whitechapel Gallery (October 2024), to mention a few. 

Robert Read, Head of Art and Private Clients at Hiscox, said: “Despite being 95 years old, Japanese trailblazer Yayoi Kusama remains one of the most influential female artists. Her work and life continue to attract global followers and deliver blockbuster shows, but as we move through the HAT 100 list, female representation begins to wane.

“Contemporary female artists have always been undervalued and underrepresented. Meaningful progress has been made in recent years, as the market gradually begins to recognise the importance and value of their work, but we are still some way from parity.”

The number of artists whose works went to auction within two years of being made, which we define as ‘wet paint’ works, has risen significantly in the past five years (from 238 in 2019 to 624 in 2023) and the total number of wet paint pieces sold has followed a similar five-year trajectory (397 in 2019 to 1,110 last year). This suggests that more art is being bought with an eye on making a short-term profit – or, to put it bluntly, that buyers are increasingly flipping pieces to cash in on particular artists or trends – which comes with the financial risk of a low or no return.

Wet paint sales brought fewer financial rewards in 2023, and this was particularly true for pieces from younger creators. The value of wet paint sales fell 36% to £69 million in 2023 despite an increase in the number of wet paint works sold, while sales by artists under the age of 45 fell 42% year-on-year to $39 million (2022: $67 million), despite the number of lots remaining more or less the same.

Fewer than half (45%) of the works by younger artists sold for prices above their mid-estimate, compared to 65% the year before, while the risk of not selling at all has jumped; bought-in (unsold) rates were 17%, up from 6% in 2022.  

While the market for these young artists remained very busy, the market value of this segment has fallen considerably, with total sales value by artists under 45 down 43% in 2023 vs the year before.

Whilst almost four in every ten (39%)contemporary art lots sold in 2023 were by artists under 45 (around the same as the year before at 41%), these artists accounted for just 21% of sales by value, down from 30% in 2022.

Robert Read, continued: “As we can see, art trends move at quite a pace. Flipping continues but is less lucrative and since we last reported, the market has softened considerably. This is particularly challenging for younger artists who’ve seen the price of their work reduce considerably.” 

 The HAT 100 highlights

  • Yayoi Kusama generated $80.9 million in auction sales of her works produced after 2000. She was followed by David Hockney ($50.3 million), Yoshitomo Nara ($36.0 million) and Cecily Brown ($31.7 million), who jumped seven places from her 2022 listing.
  • The vast majority (80%) of Kusama’s works were sold at auction in Hong Kong, a sign of strong Asian demand fueled by the major retrospective exhibition, ‘Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now’, at the M+ Museum.
  • The US-based Ethiopian Julie Mehretu broke the record for the highest sales price of any work by an African-born artist at auction, when her painting Walkers With The Dawn and Morning fetched $10.7 million at Sotheby’s in New York in November 2023.
  • Although there was a big increase in the number of female artists represented at auction in 2023, fewer made it into the HAT 100 (30 compared to 33 in 2022). 
  • As the investment bubble in next-generation artists began to go down in 2023, the number of artists aged below 45 who made it into the HAT 100 fell to 27, from 36 in 2022
  • Nearly a quarter of the HAT 100 artists’ lots offered for sale were 24% were wet paint works
  • More than a third (34%) of the lots offered for sale by artists aged below 45 in the HAT 100 rank were wet paint works

Since 2019, the number of artists selling contemporary artworks at auction has almost doubled (+91%). A total of 2,330 artists were represented at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips in 2023, up 22% year-on-year (2022: 1,911 artists).

ArtDependence WhatsApp Group

Get the latest ArtDependence updates directly in WhatsApp by joining the ArtDependence WhatsApp Group by clicking the link or scanning the QR code below


Subscribe to the Newsletter

Image of the Day

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


About ArtDependence

ArtDependence Magazine is an international magazine covering all spheres of contemporary art, as well as modern and classical art.

ArtDependence features the latest art news, highlighting interviews with today’s most influential artists, galleries, curators, collectors, fair directors and individuals at the axis of the arts.

The magazine also covers series of articles and reviews on critical art events, new publications and other foremost happenings in the art world.

If you would like to submit events or editorial content to ArtDependence Magazine, please feel free to reach the magazine via the contact page.