2020's 50 best-selling artists include 12 Chinese

Wang Jie
British artist David Hockney topped the SICA-Hurun Global Art List 2021, with sales bringing in US$132 million last year. Chinese painter Cui Ruzhuo shot up eight places to second.
Wang Jie

As a benchmark for collectors or potential collectors, many eyes are focusing on the results of the SICA-Hurun Global Art List 2021 – a ranking of the top 50 living artists in the world based on sales of their works at public auctions last year.

This is the second year the Hurun Global Art List is released by the Shanghai International Commodity Company and Hurun Research Institute.

Artprice.com, a leading art market information platform, provided the art auction data for foreign artists, while data about Chinese artists came from the CAFA National Institute of Art and Cultural Policy.

"COVID-19 has had a big impact on the art market, with the works of the Hurun Top 50 living global artists only selling US$1.4 billion at public auction last year, down 24 percent. However, this does not necessarily mean the value of artworks decreased. It may be because good works were not put up for auction by collectors last year," said Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Chairman and Chief Researcher.

British artist David Hockney, 84, topped the list for the second year in a row, with sales bringing in US$132 million.

Hockney, a painter, printmaker, stage designer and photographer, is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

Beijing-based Chinese painter Cui Ruzhuo, 77, shot up eight places on the list to second, with sales of his works more than doubling to US$113.1 million.

A student of Li Kuchan (1899-1983), one of the Chinese painters known for combining Western techniques with traditional Chinese styles, Cui left Beijing for the United States in 1981, but soon ran out of money in his rented basement.

Fortunately, he sold a painting for US$400,000 four months after arriving in the US, and the buyer introduced him to wealthy collectors and important people in art circles.

He started to prosper, so much so that he began collecting, and today his collection contains an album of paintings created by Shi Tao from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The 89-year-old German artist Gerhard Richter, ranked third, with US$102.4 million in sales, down one place from last year.

In terms of countries, the US had the most artists on the list, followed by China, the United Kingdom and Japan. Curiously, traditional art powerhouses like France had only one artist on the list, while Italy had none.

One reason might be that "the world's leading art auction houses are based in New York, London, Hong Kong and Beijing," said Hoogewerf.

Twelve Chinese artists made the list, one more than last year, including four new names. Beijing-based Zeng Fanzhi, 57, broke into the top 10, moving up 24 places.

"The achievements of Chinese contemporary artists in the secondary market cannot be separated from the development of the Chinese economy and the strong community of Chinese collectors," Hoogerwerf said. "Influenced by China's profound cultural tradition, Chinese contemporary artists have experienced social changes, the development of globalization and frequent international exchanges."

The list also reveals that it takes time for an artist to gain recognition from collectors on the secondary market, as the average age of artists on the list is 68.

Banksy, a 47-year-old British street artist, ranked sixth, up 12 places from last year. Known for his satirical and playful art style, he is the youngest artist in the top 10.

Close to a thousand of his works were sold last year, including his mock-satire "Show Me the Monet," which sold for more than US$10 million at Sotheby's in London.

2020's 50 best-selling artists include 12 Chinese

"Show Me the Monet" is one of the most iconic paintings of Banksy's provocative oeuvre. The 47-year-old British is the youngest artist in the top 10 of the Hurun Global Art List 2021.

Established in the UK in 1999, Hurun is a research, media and investment group known for the Hurun Rich List series, ranking the most successful entrepreneurs in China, India and the world.

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