French journalist Jean Abbiateci has sorted through the 270 most expensive artworks sold at auction since 2008, and the resulting interactive infographic on visualizing.org reveals a lot about the art market, not all of it pretty. The graphic groups sales by criteria like gender, dead/alive, nationality, size, and date.
Looking at the years of the sales, it shouldn’t be a surprise that 2009 was a bad year for auctions in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the financial crisis. However, it’s more interesting to note that things came roaring back in 2010 and 2011 while the economy as a whole continued to falter. Whitney Biennial artist Andrea Fraser has something to say about why that’s the case—in brief, Fraser points out that increasing income inequality is the engine behind the art market.
Almost all of the most expensive works date from the twentieth century, with particular emphasis on work produced from 1910 to ‘20 and 1960 to ’70. There are a few Old Masters in there, at lower prices than many of the twentieth century stars. Titian’s A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child, for example, sold for significantly less than a Warhol screenprint. In fact, Chinese artists dominate the pre-eighteenth century auction results.
The most disturbing view sorts the 270 works by gender. There are only three women artists in the whole bunch, a particularly striking example of the overall underrepresentation of women in the art market.
Image: The 270 most expensive artworks sold at auction since 2008, sorted by gender (infographic by Jean Abbiateci).