With an annual turnover of about $60 billion, despite the present global pandemic, art auctions have remained a focal feature of the art market as it has developed into a multibillion-dollar global industry. On the contrary, newspapers continue to publish unparalleled sales records.
For instance, Beeple’s NFT artwork sold for a stunning $69 million, making him the third most expensive living artist at auction and representing an unrivalled digital artwork sale. Despite its deep roots in tradition, it is gradually adjusting to the general digital orientation of the twenty-first century; you can trace its history from ancient origins to flashy advancements in modern times and the recent internet breakthrough.
This may be traced back to ancient Greece, with Herodotus documenting auctions of women for marriage and enslaved people as early as 500 BC. However, the oldest evidence of art auctions dates back to Roman times, when sales were staged to settle insolvency cases or sell war spoils and enslaved people.
This did not resurface until the 17th century, when creating a collecting base among the mercantile middle classes of Flanders, Holland, and sections of Italy fueled the industry’s growth. Newspapers began reporting on the auctioning of artworks in London and Paris coffeehouses and taverns, and the first auction house, Stockholm Auktionsverk, opened its doors for business in Stockholm in 1674.
With three significant events in the mid-1700s, the modern history of auctions began: the sale at auction of a significant art collection belonging to Edward Earl of Oxford and the creation in London of what would become the world’s two most excellent auction houses: Sotheby’s in 1744 and Christie’s in 1766. As time passed by the nineteenth century, the art market grew tremendously.
In the aftermath of colonialism and burgeoning global trade, African and Asian antiquities, ranging from lacquers to porcelains, were auctioned alongside Old masters worked by live artists. Furthermore, following the Civil War’s conclusion, early American businesspeople joined European collectors in the battle for the highest price until the Great Depression, followed by World War II, marked the end of an era that had a significant impact on the art market.
The Rise of Contemporary Art as an Asset
Where East Asian nations such as China, Japan, and Korea designed noteworthy local art markets after WWII, the market of Europe was extremely slow to rise. It remained primarily controlled by private contractors until significant alterations in the intrinsic attributes of auctions related to art and usual shifts in taste came up.
On the one hand, auctions of art have begun to sparkle the evening events full of celebrities due to Sotheby’s unique marketing approach – which coincided with the auction house’s development over the seas and variety of collectibles. The well known ‘auction chant,’ the frenetic repetition of numbers and words stated by people who auction, improved the auction hall into a social rivalry arena. Sotheby’s bid on the latest technologies simultaneously, offering telephone and satellite connectivity.
On the other hand, contemporary art dominated the market. Artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Pollock and Warhol began to replace the Old Masters and establish new price records.
Why is art so important? Art gives a fresh perspective on the world and society around. Most importantly, it allows one to interpret material based on one’s experiences and associations. In this context, Art auctions are a fantastic way for art collectors to expand their collections by purchasing original works from the world’s largest community of private collectors with no commission or hidden costs.