The $1m+ Contemporary Market

The $1m+ Contemporary Market

C ontemporary art is art made by artists born since 1910. We have divided them into three categories. Post-War artists were born between 1910 and 1929, and mostly came to prominence after the Second World War. Core Contemporary artists were born between 1930 and 1976 and include the best-known artists working today. Young Contemporary artists are under 45 years old, born since 1977. The data in this section also includes Chinese Contemporary artists, who are now fully part of the international market. Our results cover three major international auction houses: Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s.

Change in high-end Contemporary sales by value 2018–2022

Contemporary art is work made by artists who have mostly come to prominence since the end of the Second World War. This includes artists such as Andy Warhol in our Post-War band, Jean-Michel Basquiat in our Core Contemporary band and Adrian Ghenie in our Young Contemporary band.

While Contemporary art made up 44.7% of the overall auction market in 2022, it accounted for 41.8% of the $1m+ market.

Contemporary art worth $1m or more has bounced back strongly since the first year of the pandemic in 2020, when 443 works made $1.73bn at auction. In 2021, 657 works sold for a total of $3.35bn. In 2022, totals decreased a little (-0.2%), with 712 works selling for $3.34bn.

Overall, sales of $1m+ Contemporary art have grown by 24.1% over the five- year period, from $2.69bn in 2018 to $3.34bn in 2022. The first half of the year was stronger, with $1.93bn in total sales, bolstered by important single-collection auctions. However, the second half of the year was slower, with $1.41bn in sales.

Contemporary works in this price bracket nearly always found buyers. In 2018, just over 7% of works at auction failed to sell, while in 2022, it reduced to 4.9%. This compares favourably with the overall Contemporary market at auction, where 14.5% of works failed to sell in 2022.

High-end Contemporary sales by value 2018–2022

The bulk of high-end sales are in the $1m to $5m range, with 569 works in this bracket sold in 2022, or 79.9% of the total $1m+ Contemporary market. In 2021, 35 works sold for more than $20m, including Jean-Michel Basquiat’s In This Case, 1983, which was the top Contemporary lot. In 2022, 23 works sold, including another painting by Basquiat – Untitled, 1982 – for $85m in May, which this time was the third-top lot, following works by Warhol and Lucian Freud, respectively.

Works with a low estimate of at least $5m nearly always found buyers: only 4% of works at this level failed to sell in 2022 – just four works out of 98 offered.

Sotheby’s provided proprietary data for this report about people who placed bids at the auction house on Contemporary works of art with low estimates of $1m or more in 2022. North Americans are the single largest group, accounting for 45% of bids placed on these works of art. Europeans made up 32% of bidders, while 18% came from Asia. The single biggest shift was seen in the number of Asian bidders, which has grown by 40% since 2018.

High-end Contemporary price segmentation by total lots 2018–2022

Our Post-War category (artists born between 1910 and 1929) typically includes some of the most respected, high-value and high-selling artists, such as Andy Warhol ($1.13bn in sales at auction in the past five years), Zao Wou-Ki ($641.3m) and Cy Twombly ($446.9m). But over the past five years there has been steady growth in both the number and total value of works by younger artists.

Core Contemporary artists (born in 1930–76) account for 50.7% of sales of $1m+ works in the past five years, a total value of $6.91bn (50.7% of the total value of $13.57bn). This trend was particularly strong in 2021, when key works helped Contemporary art sales surpass Post-War art, accounting for $1.75bn or 52.3% of sales in the entire category. Among them was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s $93.1m “Skull” painting, In This Case, 1983, and Beeple’s $69.3m NFT Everydays: the First 5000 Days, 2021 – the top-selling NFT to date.

Post-War artists rallied in 2022, to account for 49.2% of sales value, thanks in part to masterpieces offered at important single-owner sales. Three of the top lots came from single-owner sales, including paintings by Warhol, Freud and Andrew Wyeth.

Generational change of artists 2018–2022

The auction market is beginning to play a larger role in younger artists’ career trajectories. Over the past five years, more works by artists in their early- to mid-40s such as Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Swiss artist Nicolas Party, and thirtysomethings such as British painter Flora Yukhnovich and US artist Christina Quarles, have sold for $1m or more. But while younger artists accounted for $635.4m worth of art during this period, this trend peaked in 2021 with $296.5m in sales.

Painting and sculpture are on top

In 1935, the eminent art critic Kenneth Clark joined a list of writers predicting the death of painting. Despite that, 88 years later, it remains the dominant medium in the auction market. This also applies in the Contemporary field, where artists typically use more varied media.

Of the 3,002 Contemporary works that sold for $1m or more between 2018 and 2022, 2,482 were paintings (82.4%). Their value was $12bn, or 88.3% of the total Contemporary market ($13.57bn). They range from paintings by grandees, such as the late British artist Lucian Freud, to Young Contemporary painters bringing more diverse perspectives to this traditional medium. These include Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby, US artists Avery Singer and Shara Hughes, and the Swiss figurative painter Nicolas Party.

Sculpture is the second highest-ranking medium, with 272 lots selling for $905.7m over the past five years. The most expensive sculpture sold during this period was Rabbit, 1986, by the American Post-Pop conceptual artist Jeff Koons, which sold for $91.1m in 2019.

Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 1998
Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 1998. © Richard Prince. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.

Photography and video on a small scale

Although both photography and video art have often been hailed as the successors to painting, they make up only a tiny percentage of works sold at the $1m+ mark at auction. Photography represents just 0.3% of the total sales value from 2018 to 2022, with just three photos selling for more than $1m last year. These were: Untitled (My face is your fortune), 1982, by Barbara Kruger (sold for $1.6m) and Untitled (Cowboy), 1988, by Richard Prince ($1.1m). Both these artists are part of the Pictures Generation, named after the seminal group show Pictures, held at New York’s Artists Space gallery in 1977. This group took a critical look at the relationship between art, mass media and pop culture. Meanwhile fashion photographer Helmut Newton’s Big Nude III (Variation), Paris, 1980, sold for $2.3m. Just one video surpassed the $1m+ mark in 2022, but it was made by a painter. British artist David Hockney’s Woldgate Woods, Winter, 2010 – a video of a snowy landscape in his home county of Yorkshire – made $1.1m.


1ANDY WARHOL (1928–87)$1.13bn136
2JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960–88)$1.11bn107
3GERHARD RICHTER (b 1932)$747.7m96
4DAVID HOCKNEY (b 1937)$647.2m67
5ZAO WOU-KI (1920–2013)$641.3m131
6CY TWOMBLY (1928–2011)$446.9m40
7ROY LICHTENSTEIN (1923–97)$354.4m54
8JOAN MITCHELL (1925–92)$317.6m54
9YAYOI KUSAMA (b 1929)$282.3m106
10YOSHITOMO NARA (b 1959)$267.3m53

For a complete five-year listing of the top 10 artists within this category, please consult the Appendix.


In 2022, just 12 prints passed the $1m+ threshold, and 11 of them were by Warhol. The other, by New York street art pioneer Keith Haring was an homage to him. Andy Mouse [set of 4], 1986, features a character that is a cross between Mickey Mouse and Warhol. It sold for just over $1m in September.

Andy Warhol

The market for high-end Andy Warhol

Warhol leads our list of the 10 most- valuable Contemporary artists with $1m+ sales at auction in 2022. Of his works offered at auction, 42 sold for $1m or more, accounting for $482.3m in total sales.

Warhol’s recognisable style and popular subject matter have long appealed to collectors and the public. Shows dedicated to him, such as the touring retrospective Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again, organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2018, are must-see events in many art lovers’ calendars.

Over a five-year period, 136 of his works have sold for $1m or more, making $1.13bn in total. The record $195m sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964, in May 2022 helped catapult Warhol to the top spot. This work broke three auction records: for Warhol, for a work by a US artist and for a 20th-century work of art.


1JOAN MITCHELL (1925–92)$317.6m54
2YAYOI KUSAMA (b 1929)$282.3m106
3CECILY BROWN (b 1969)$124.8m40
4LOUISE BOURGEOIS (1911–2010)$94.5m18
5AGNES MARTIN (1912–2004)$93.8m20
6HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928–2011)$87.6m33
7BRIDGET RILEY (b 1931)$58.9m23
8AVERY SINGER (b 1987)$32m10
9JENNY SAVILLE (b 1970)$31.7m5
10VIJA CELMINS (b 1938)$30.3m10

For a complete five-year listing of the top 10 artists within this category, please consult the Appendix.

Inclusion in the main exhibition at the Venice Biennale is a recognised mark of success for most Contemporary artists. In 2022, for the first time in the exhibition’s history, the number of women artists was greater than the number of men, with women making up approximately 90% of the 213 artists in director Cecilia Alemani’s The Milk of Dreams exhibition. For the past 20 years, only 30% of artists in the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition were women, and during its first 100 years it was only 10%.

Yayoi Kusama, the top-selling high-end Contemporary woman artist by number of lots sold in the 2018–2022 period. Yayoi Kusama © YAYOI KUSAMA, photo © Tate
Yayoi Kusama, the top-selling high-end Contemporary woman artist by number of lots sold in the 2018–2022 period. Yayoi Kusama © YAYOI KUSAMA, photo © Tate

Similarly, major museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate Modern in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris have mounted more solo exhibitions of women artists. Among those given shows in 2022 were Meret Oppenheim, Cecilia Vicuña and Tatiana Trouvé.

Although parity is still some way off, the amount of money spent at auction on $1m+ works by women artists more than doubled from 2018 to 2022, increasing from $221.7m to $461.9m. This represents 13.9% of the total $1m+ Contemporary market, up from 8.2%.

There has also been a marked increase in the number of works by women artists breaking the $1m barrier. In 2018 there were just 72 works. This has risen to 174 in 2022, or nearly a quarter (24.5%) of the $1m+ Contemporary lots sold. In 2018 it was just 11.8%.

Despite these inroads, the stark reality is that art made by women continues to make less money overall at auction than work by men. Over the past five years works by male artists accounted for 88.9% of total sales by value and 83.4% by lot.

Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama is the only woman to feature in the overall top 10 Contemporary artists of 2022. Just five others – Joan Mitchell, Cecily Brown, Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin and Helen Frankenthaler – broke into the top 50.

The works that surpassed the magic $20m+ mark over the past five years were all by men, except for one sculpture by Bourgeois. Spider, 1997, sold for $32m in 2019.

The rise of artworks by women artists in the high-end Contemporary market


1ADRIAN GHENIE (b 1977)$120.3m27
2BEEPLE (b 1981)$98.3m2
3MATTHEW WONG (1984–2019)$79.1m27
4JONAS WOOD (b 1977)$48.5m22
5NICOLAS PARTY (b 1980)$37.5m17
6AVERY SINGER (b 1987)$32m10
7FLORA YUKHNOVICH (b 1990)$20.2m9
8SHARA HUGHES (b 1981)$17.9m11
9RASHID JOHNSON (b 1977)$13.8m8

For a complete five-year listing of the top 10 artists within this category, please consult the Appendix.

Young Contemporary art is defined as work by artists born in 1977 or later. These include Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie and American painter Jonas Wood, who are both in their 40s. Others who have appeared on the auction scene since 2021 are even younger, including British painter Flora Yukhnovich and Canadian painter Anna Weyant.

Adrian Ghenie, the top-selling Young Contemporary artist of 2022. © Oliver Mark
Adrian Ghenie, the top-selling Young Contemporary artist of 2022. © Oliver Mark

Over the past five years, the number of works by Young Contemporary artists that sold for more than $1m has soared from just 18 in 2018 to 84 in 2022 – a rise of 366.7%. The total value of works by Young Contemporary artists also increased from $36.9m to $194m.

Remarkably, not a single lot with a low estimate of $1m or more by a Young Contemporary artist failed to find a buyer at auction over the past five years.

Two artists stand out: Ghenie and the late Canadian artist Matthew Wong. They are the two top-performing Young Contemporaries at auction, by lot and value, in 2022 and over the past five years.

A new generation of high-end artists has emerged

Pie Fight Interior 12, 2014 – a painting from Ghenie’s sought-after series named after the 1941 slapstick film by The Three Stooges – set an artist’s record of $10.3m in May 2022. It was a huge advance on the $22,500 that was achieved for Swimming Pool, 2006, at his auction debut in 2011.

Prices for works by Wong, who only had his first solo show the year before his death, have rocketed in recent years. Six auction records for the artist were set in the three-and-a-half years since his suicide. The most recent was the $5.9m paid in May for his contemplative nightscape The Night Watcher, 2018.

The top five Young Contemporary artists list for 2022 is rounded out by two women: Shara Hughes and Avery Singer.

Next: The 1M+ Impressionist & Modern Market
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