From Caravaggio to Warhol: how the global art market is changing


Contemporary Art

2014 has been a record year for auction houses: Sotheby’s has sold $8,4 billion worth of artwork, while Christie’s intakes are around the $6 billion mark. Growing numbers if compared to the past few years, drawn by the vertical growth of the prices of contemporary art. An example? Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963) and Four Marlons (1966) – 50-year old screen prints depicting Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando – have been bought by lucky art collectors for $81,9m and $69,6m respectively.

Contemporary art is currently floating towards record quotations, in stark contrast to the art represented by master painters from the past, such as Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, one of the most recognisable artists of all times, whose quotations today are much lower than those of modern artists. Lower, but still significant, just like the Caravaggio painting that was recently sold at Christie’s at around $3m. Other classic painters have seen their artwork price nosedive as never before, for a mere $2-4m, for instance, collectors are now able to bag an iconic Canaletto landscape.

But let’s try to look at the Caravaggio painting in a different light: it has reached us after going through centuries of history. It’s almost absurd that it’s currently valued at a fraction of a screen print, by an iconic artist yes, but still created not long ago. Industry experts explain that’s the current inclination of a market steering towards contemporary art partially because of fashion trends and high demands, but also because it is much easier to establish the authenticity of modern pieces.