Ideally, art would be accessible to everyone. However, this simply isn’t the case. Although affordable prints and reproductions of famous, well-loved artworks are made available to the masses, owning a piece of celebrated art is for the super-rich only. Whether your taste runs to the Old Masters or contemporary artists, you will likely only ever be able to experience the real thing in a gallery or exhibition.  

If you are extremely lucky, you may be able to pick up the work of an influential creator before they make it big, but this will still set you back a fair amount of cash. Art is important and, as such, its price should fairly reflect that, but the world we’re going to look at in this article is the upper stratosphere of the art industry. This realm is occupied by the super-rich, the well-connected, and the privileged – therefore making it incredibly interesting to explore. 

Online Art 

As technology has developed, the ability to faithfully represent artwork online has grown. Indeed, many artists now incorporate online elements into their work from the very beginning, such is the importance of the internet in the 21st century. Much like we would enjoy other pastimes and services online these days, such as watching films on The Criterion Channel, playing classic games at PokerStarscasino or browsing Worldphoto for the latest photography, we can access art using the internet. Many established art fairs opted for virtual alternatives last year, either instead of or alongside IRL events. Galleries as diverse as MoMA, the NY Met, the Tate galleries, the Louvre and the National Gallery hosted online exhibitions which were either exclusive of their brick-and-mortar offerings, or complimented them in some way. This move made the viewing of art more accessible, even if the prices for ownership remain high. Prospective buyers are now able to explore artworks worth thousands of dollars from the comfort of their own home or office, rather than travelling themselves or sending a representative. Art Basel, perhaps the most important art fair in the world, hosted a successful online fair last year, managing to rake in millions of dollars. 

Auction Houses 

Of course, the traditional way to view and purchase art is through auction houses. Some of the most recognisable and established names include Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both originally based in London. These two auction houses have a reputation for procuring interesting and expensive pieces (such as complete T. Rex skeletons and Da Vinci’s paintings), whilst offering impeccable customer service. They are also known for dealing with absolutely enormous amounts of money. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s now operate on a global basis with satellite offices located around the world, but newer auction houses are springing up and vying for their title as world’s most important art vendor. The Poly Auction, or Beijing Poly International Auction Company, is one such newcomer, exerting massive influence on the market in China especially and specialising in modern, contemporary art. China Guardian is another big name in this part of the world, with a focus on traditional artworks by Chinese and East Asian artists. It will be interesting to see how the industry transforms as collectors migrate over to these newer auctioneers in order to buy fresh new talent and the historical work of Asian heritage. 

Vincent Van Gogh

Most Expensive Artworks 2020 

So, what are the privileged few spending their millions on at the moment? The most expensive artworks of the year can be indicative of the way in which the whole industry is moving at the moment, so it’s fascinating to study. Here are the top 5 most expensive artworks sold in 2020: 

  1. Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) by Francis Bacon 

Sold for $84.5 million, these three paintings echo the tradition of Greek tragedy and were sold to raise money for charity. 

  1. Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (ca. 1610) by Unknown 

The final price for this piece stood between $73.4 and $78.4 million after a tense bidding war, breaking the world record for the auction of a Chinese antique. 

  1. Nude with Joyous Painting (1994) by Roy Lichtenstein 

Drawing on a DC comic as reference for the composition, this classic dotted painting fetched $46.2 million at auction and made one keen bidder very happy. 

  1. Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback (13th – 14th century) by Ren Renfa 

There were over 100 bids on this unique piece, with the final sale amount set at $41.8 million in the end. Though who can put a price on owning a piece of history? 

  1. Nichols Canyon (1980) by David Hockney 

Hockney’s work is always popular when it comes up for sale and this piece was no different. Fetching $41 million at auction, it now holds the title of most expensive Hockney artwork ever sold.