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Art investment trends to watch in 2017

Dec 27 2016 22:01
Katya Kazakina

London - The art market went on a roller-coaster ride in 2016.

The year saw highs - including auction records for artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Claude Monet - and lows such as a drop in auction sales in London and New York.

There were many tense moments in between too.

Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s were entangled in a money-laundering investigation surrounding Malaysian businessman Jho Low. Neither auction house was accused of any wrongdoing and Low’s family has been fighting the claims.

A Pablo Picasso sculpture ignited a bitter fight between powerful members of the royal family of Qatar and US billionaire Leon Black. There was also unprecedented staff turnover in the auction world, which culminated this month when Christie’s tapped an ex-Sotheby’s executive as its new chief executive officer.

What does it all mean for 2017?

Here are seven trends to watch next year.

Russian art

Russian avant-garde will be in focus next year because of the upcoming centenary of the October Revolution of 1917. Prices are already starting to climb. Sotheby’s set auction records for Alexander Rodchenko and Ilya Chashnik in London last month.

Fans of the movement include Claude Ruiz Picasso, a son of Pablo. “Russian avant-garde is something very close to my heart", Ruiz Picasso said in an interview. “Its revolutionary spirit, its total, complete leap into the future.”


Asian collectors have become such a force in the market that Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips are delaying their London sales next year - traditionally in early February - until later in the month and into March, after the Chinese New Year.

Sotheby’s, whose largest shareholder is Chinese company Taikang Life Insurance, recently named its first Asian director. In Hong Kong last month, Phillips sold $50m of contemporary art, design and watches while Christie’s made multiple sales from its special exhibition of Western art.

Online sales

The online art market is growing at an annual rate of 24% and expected to reach $9.58bn by 2020, according to a report by insurer Hiscox. At Sotheby’s, internet buyers spent $155m in 2016, up 20% from a year earlier and about half of all online bidders were new to the auction house.
Christie’s doubled the number of its online-only sales this year. The young, global, tech-savvy audience of startup Artsy participated in 41 auctions of its partners such as Phillips and Sotheby’s - and the company expects to quadruple such collaborations in 2017. A Basquiat painting sold via Instagram for $24m in November.

The very young

Moments after the opening of Art Basel Miami Beach last month, collectors rushed to a distant corner of the fair where first-time exhibitor Clearing gallery offered works by two hot millennials: Harold Ancart (born in 1980) and Korakrit Arunanondchai (born in 1986).

The booth sold out within a couple of hours, with all works going to public and private institutions, according to Olivier Babin, the founder of the gallery. Ancart’s bonfire paintings sold for $30 000 and $45 000. Two weeks earlier, an Ancart triptych fetched $751 000 at auction, six times the high estimate.

“It just goes to show you that there is always going to be this foaming, heaving activity around some young art,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York. But beware: not all works by young artists hold their value over time.

The very old

The Cuban-born artist Carmen Herrera was 101 years old when her geometric abstract paintings and sculptures got their big recognition with a solo Whitney museum exhibition in New York earlier this year. It was quickly followed by an auction record of $970 000 for a 1965 canvas last month.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (87) was a hit with collectors this year. Auction sales tallied a record $53.8m for her in 2016, according to, and demand is expected to remain strong ahead of her exhibition in February at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington.

Old masters

The Old masters sector was shaken by high-profile forgery claims that led Sotheby’s to reimburse the buyer of a $10m painting now believed to be a fake, and launch a special department for scientific research. Still, Peter Paul Rubens’s “Lot and his Daughters" fetched $58m at Christie’s in July.

Next June, a newly discovered Leonardo da Vinci drawing valued at $15.7m will offered for sale at French auction house Tajan.

Sotheby’s stock

After falling as low as $19.13 in February on a gloomy outlook, Sotheby’s stock is ending the year with a rally. Often a barometer for the art market, Sotheby’s jumped almost 8% to $41.35 on December 16 after Cowen analyst Oliver Chen upgraded the stock to outperform and raised the price target to $45 from $38.

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