2023 arka study reveals top-selling contemporary artist and insights into female representation


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A recently unveiled art report by Hiscox Artist Top 100 for 2023 has revealed fascinating insights into the state of the contemporary art market. 

Among the most striking revelations is the ascendance of Yayoi Kusama, the celebrated Japanese artist known for her vibrant and kaleidoscopic paintings and sculptures, as the best-selling contemporary artist of the year.

Despite a decline in demand for higher-priced artworks, the report also highlights a significant surge in sales of more affordable pieces, accompanied by an increase in participation from younger artists in auctions. 

Here are the key findings of the report: 

The best-selling artists of 2023: Kusama shines bright

The installation of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, peering over the Louis Vuitton flagship store is pictured at the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023.

Kusama claimed the title of the best-selling contemporary artist of the year, surpassing British artist David Hockney, who had previously held the top spot with sales totalling $50.3 million (€47m). 

Her works commanded an impressive $80.9 million (€76m) at auction, securing her position. In 2023, the highest-priced artwork by Kusama was her painting “c” (2014), fetching nearly $10 million (€9.4m) at an auction held by Christie’s in Hong Kong.

Last year, her work was featured in several major exhibitions, including ‘You, Me and the Balloons‘ at the Factory in Manchester, a retrospective of her work at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and ‘I Spend Each Day Embracing Flowers’ hosted at David Zwirner in Chelsea, New York City.

Table shows the best-selling contemporary artists of 2023

In third place, behind Kusama and Hockney, was Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara with $36 million (€33.8m) in sales, followed by British painter Cecily Brown, who jumped seven places from 2022, and American visual artist George Condo, who rose from eighth place in 2022. 

The US-based Ethiopian Julie Mehretu broke the record for the highest sale 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.

Rising female representation

An installation at ‘Yoko Ono : Music of the Mind’ exhibition at the Tate Modern, 13 February 2024

Another notable revelation from the HAT 100 report is the significant uptick in female representation within the contemporary art market. Over the past five years, the number of female artists featured in auctions has surged by a staggering 179%, showing great progress in the mission for gender equality in the arts.

While the overall value of sales for female artists experienced a slight 8% decline, their male counterparts faced a more significant 20% drop in sales. And despite a 17% decrease in total sales of contemporary art at blue-chip auction houses, the figure still exceeds pre-pandemic levels by 26%.

“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,” says Robert Read, the head of Art and Private Clients at Hiscox.

Guests look at pieces of work of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara at the pre-opening day of the 6th Shanghai Biennial on 5 September 2006 in Shanghai, China.

The incresed interest in female artists is expected to continue as the 2024 exhibition calendar for many high-profile galleries and museums reveals. 

Noteworthy events include the recently launched retrospective of Yoko Ono at Tate Modern, British artist Leslie Thornton’s showcase at MoMA in New York, and exhibitions spotlighting an older generation of female artists, including Tate’s ‘Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain, 1520–1920’ scheduled for May 2024, and the Musée d’Orsay’s showcase on Harriet Backer slated for September 2024.

Challenges for young artists

Amidst the buzz of success, the report also sheds light on the daunting challenges faced by young artists navigating an increasingly competitive art landscape. 

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.

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