Museums big art buyers, not the rich

Paris: Bye bye billionaires — it’s now museums that acquire most artworks put up for auction, according to a firm which follows the fine art market. Sales at auction of works of fine art — paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, engravings and installations — jumped by 18 per cent in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2017 to $8.45 billion, according to Artprice.
The company’s founder Thierry Ehrmann pointed out that “around three quarters of purchases above one million dollars is now by museums”.That trend is being supported by the opening of new museums.
The new openings helped China remain in second place in terms of auction revenues at $2 billion, accounting for just under a quarter of the market, according to Artprice’s twice-yearly market report.
The US led in auction sales in the first half of the year with $3.3 billion, or 40 per cent of the market. Britain ranked third with $1.9 billion in sales and a market share of 22 per cent.
But if museums are now the big buyers, the market was supported this year by the sale of the art collection of billionaire David Rockefeller and his wife Peggy.
Although there was no blockbuster sale like that of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” last November for $450 million, the Rockefeller collection was the most valuable private collection ever sold and included works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.
“The sale of May 8, 2018 alone totalled $646 million,” noted Artprice in its report, with a Picasso “Blue Period” painting, “Fillette a la corbeille fleurie”, fetching $115 million by itself.
Artprice pointed to a particular strength of the US market: the concentration of sales of the most expensive artworks that fetch more than $5 million at auction.
London’s place in the global art market appears to be holding up against Britain’s impending exit from the European Union next year.
Works from the 20th century dominate the auction market, accounting for four-fifths of items to go under the hammer.