Leading Contemporary Artists of 2017

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It was a record-breaking 2017 for Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s. In the number-one spot is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled of 1982, which sold in New York in May for $110 million – the highest price paid at auction for a work by an American artist and for any artwork created after 1980. Two additional works by Basquiat rank among the year’s top lots as well as iconic Roy Lichtenstein depictions of women and two Andy Warhol portraits of Mao. Works by Francis BaconGerhard Richter and Louise Bourgeois were also among the highest performers at auction. Click ahead to revisit the 10 leading Contemporary artists of 2017.  

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Leading Contemporary Artists of 2017

  • © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982. Sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby's New York.
    Basquiat’s Untitled is a singularly important work from a formative year of Basquiat’s meteoric career and indisputably the most significant work by the artist to ever appear at auction. After a dramatic competition between two determined bidders, the painting was sold to Tokyo-based collector and e-commerce entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, who revealed himself as the happy buyer with an effusive Instagram post minutes later.


    Auction demand was high for Basquiats of the same period, notably Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face)  of 1982, which sold for £11.9 million at Sotheby's London and his 1981–82  Cabra , from the Collection of Yoko Ono, that garnered $10.9 million at Sotheby’s New York.

  • © 2017 Estate of Francis Bacon/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London
    Francis Bacon, Three Studies Of George Dyer, 1966. Sold for $38.6 million at Sotheby's New York.
    Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of George Dyer is a rare triptych that shows the artist at the height of his power. George Dyer was a singular figure in Bacon’s work, appearing in more than 40 paintings, with as many created following his death as during his lifetime. However, triptychs of Dyer in this intimate scale are exceptionally rare. The present work was exhibited shortly after its execution and had not been seen publicly until its appearance at auction.  

  • © 2017 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Andy Warhol, Mao, 1972. Sold for $32.4 million at Sotheby's New York.
    Evincing the same commanding presence of the official state portrait that inspired it, Andy Warhol’s extraordinary Mao is among the most historically potent of the artist’s portraits. Fixing the viewer with a gaze both utterly penetrating and entirely opaque, Chairman Mao commands our full attention with a provocative bravura that characterises the artist’s most indelible Pop images.   


    It's no surpise that a Warhol Mao from 1973 was also among the top performing works for the year, earning HK$98.5 million (US$12.6 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong and setting an auction record for a work of Western contemporary art sold in Asia.

  • © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
    Roy Lichtenstein, Female Head, 1977. Sold for $24.5 million at Sotheby's New York.
    Completed in 1977, Female Head is one of the finest examples of Lichtenstein's “Surrealist” period. By dislocating and disconnecting the facial features of three portraits – two mirrored faces are joined by a third silhouette – the artist engages the vocabularies of Cubism, Surrealism and Pop with unparallelled energy and imagination. Far exceeding its high estimate of $15 million, Female Head was the fourth-highest earning work of 2017. The artist's  Nude Sunbathing , 1995, followed closely at $24 million at Sotheby's New York this May. 

  • © 2017 Gerhard Richter
    Gerhard Richter, Eisberg, 1982. Sold for £17.7 million at Sotheby's London.
    Gerhard Richter was fascinated by landscape paintings and while he was extensively occupied by the genre over a long period, the total number of major landscapes he created is relatively low, making works such as Eisberg distinctly rare, and lifting it to its sale price of £17.8 million.


    Richter's  Abstraktes Bild   was also among the year's top performers, earning $15.4 million at auction at Sotheby's New York.  Among Richter's greatest abstractions, Abstraktes Bild's brilliant white paint courses horizontally across the canvas, both covering and uncovering strata of bold crimson, gold and ceruleans hues.  

  • © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY
    Louise Bourgeois, Spider IV, 1997. Sold for $14.7 million at Sotheby's New York.
    At once poignant, powerful, menacing and nostalgic, Spider IV assumes full command of its surroundings. Measuring over six feet, the spider is impressively life-like for its exaggerated scale. Its body seems to swell with a palpable energy that belies its cast-iron material, and one bent leg gracefully extends in a gesture of paused motion and contemplation.  

  • © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
    Robert Rauschenberg, Rigger, 1961. Sold for $12.3 million at Sotheby’s New York.
    A hybrid of the two- and three-dimensional, Rauschenberg’s Rigger of 1961 exemplifies the artist’s singular engagement with – and redefinition of – the very nature of artistic form. An exemple of the artist’s famed Combine series, Rigger articulates the presence of mechanisation within the composition, making explicit the tension between the industrial and the artistic suggested by its diverse materials. 

  • © 2017/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome
    Alberto Burri, Nero Plastica L.A., 1963. Sold for $10.9 million at Sotheby’s New York.
    Starting in the late 1950s, with the devastation and scarcity of the war years still fresh in his mind, Italian artist Alberto Burri began creating forceful artworks from two unpredictable and non-traditional materials: fire and plastic. Harnessing the destructive and transformative powers of fire as a means of creation, Burri used a blowtorch to melt and manipulate sheets of industrial plastic into viscerally powerful abstract compositions such as Nero Plastica L.A. of 1963. Exhibited in the Guggenheim Museum’s acclaimed 2015–16 Burri survey, the work was the largest from the series to ever come to auction. 

  • © 2017 Georg Baselitz
    Georg Baselitz, Mit Roter Fahne (With Red Flag). Sold for £7.5 million at Sotheby’s London.
    Georg Baselitz's Mit Roter Fahne is from the artist’s important Heroes series of paintings that cemented his reputation as one of the most provocative and compelling voices of the post-war era. During his long career, Baselitz has assiduously challenged the realities of history and art history and delivered a searing confrontation of human existence in the wake of the war.

  • Art @ 2017 The Estate of David Smith/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
    David Smith, Voltri-Bolton X, 1962. Sold for $8.7 million at Sotheby’s New York.
    For a month in 1962 David Smith set up a studio in an abandoned welding factory in the town of Voltri, Italy from which he salvaged tools and industrial detritus. He shipped these all back to to his studio in Bolton Landing, New York. Upon returning to the United States, Smith embarked on his ambitious Voltri-Bolton series (1962–63), a group of 25 sculptures that Smith called “drawings in space." Combining both found and forged material, the Voltri-Boltons represent a conceptual bridge between the remarkable burst of creativity that consumed Smith at Voltri and his major later series, such as the geometric Cubi.


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