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12 Dwelling Artists With the Most Costly Artwork Works as of 2024

12 Dwelling Artists With the Most Costly Artwork Works as of 2024

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Art Basel Hong Kong is set to return this month, fostering celebration and appreciation for artists who have made their mark upon the world. In anticipation of the historic art exhibition and all the fine works and creators it is scheduled to spotlight, we look at 12 living artists whose works have resulted in the most expensive pieces ever sold at auction.

So long as mankind has walked the earth, so too has art existed. Beyond aesthetic value, artists exist to feed the soul, pouring their hearts into poetry, painting, and pictures. An art piece is often the expression of its maker’s thoughts and feelings, the culmination of their personal tastes and a reflection of their lived experiences. To appreciate a piece of art is to appreciate the artist.

The price of creative genius

Historically, artists were not always well compensated while they were alive. Take, for example, one of the best-known artists today: Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh needs no introduction. As the man behind iconic pieces like The Starry Night, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, and Wheatfields with Crows, his life was nonetheless a tragic rendition from which he drew much inspiration.

While living, Van Gogh sold just one painting: The Red Vineyard (1888), which fetched just 400 francs (USD 2,000 today). The painting was purchased by avant-garde Belgian artist Anna Boch in 1890 following its exhibition in Brussels, mere months before Van Gogh’s tragic death.

most expensive living artists
Vincent Van Gogh’s Orchard with Cypresses sold for USD 117.2 million in 2022. (Image: Wikimedia/Public Domain)

In contrast, Van Gogh’s posthumous sales have fetched staggering numbers, in line with his popularity today. In 1990, his Portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet was sold for USD 82.5 million; then, in November 2022, Orchard with Cypresses was sold for USD 117.2 million, making it the most expensive of his paintings to be sold today. Notably, the most iconic of his paintings, The Starry Night, is estimated to be worth up to USD 100 million.

By all accounts, Van Gogh is one of the world’s most successful artists today. If Miss Boch had possessed a crystal ball back in 1890, she might have made just a few more purchases. And she would be right to.

Art Basel set to return in March 2024

Bridging the gap between artist and art lover, Art Basel Hong Kong is set to return from March 28 to 30, 2024, with preview dates on March 26 and 27. The exhibition, which will be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) will feature 242 galleries from 40 countries, spotlighting the rich tapestry of art across Asia and beyond. Incorporating an enthralling carousel of city-wide events and activation, this year’s Art Basel has all the makings for success, with artists, art appreciators, and gallery owners all expected to converge upon the city in droves.

To celebrate the return of Art Basel, we look at living contemporary artists with the most expensive artworks that have ever sold at auction as of 2024.

The most expensive art sold by living artists at auction as of 2024

While it does not take deep pockets to enjoy art, it certainly helps if one is a collector seeking to fill their home with the works of the world’s most accomplished artists. In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi was sold for USD 450.3 million; to date, it is the most expensive piece of art ever sold in an auction.

While it has proven difficult for the art pieces of contemporary living artists to fetch those figures, some have come close.

most expensive living artists
Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi (1499–1510) became the most expensive painting in the world when it sold for USD 450.3 million in 2017. (Image: Wikimedia/Public Domain)

Enter Willem de Kooning’s Interchange, Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A, and Mark Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red), which sold for USD 300 million, USD 200 million, and USD 186 million respectively. All three works were produced in the mid 1900s; however, the sales were made after the artists’ deaths, thus lending credence to the notion that artists are more often appreciated posthumously than they are whilst living.

Of recent, however, one welcome development in the world of art is that modern collectors have begun to put their appreciation where their money is. In honour of that, we look at 12 living artists with the most expensive art pieces ever sold in auction as of 2024.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills – USD 6.7 million

Photographer Cindy Sherman comes in 12th on our list of living artists with the most expensive artworks sold at auction with her set of self-portraits, Untitled Film Stills. Produced between 1977 to 1980, the series is Sherman’s take on the ‘masks’ and characters that reflect the fears and obsessions of Western Society. It is composed of over 70 black and white photographs, evoking numerous themes including mystery, melancholy, vulnerability, and theatricality. In a 2014 Christie’s auction, the shots were sold as one lot for USD 6.7 million.

Cecily Brown, Suddenly Last Summer – USD 6.77 million

Suddenly Last Summer by Cecily Brown. (Image: Sothesby’s)

Number 11th on our list of most expensive living artists, Cecily Brown snagged the spot with Suddenly Last Summer, an Abstract Expressionist oil-on-canvas piece that fetched USD 6.77 million at a 2018 Sothesby’s auction. In keeping with the modern times, its name recalls the 1950s romance mystery film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn of the same name. Its style, however, pays homage to Baroque Classicism, Impressionism, Proto-Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism.

At its core, Suddenly Last Summer’s strength lies in its inherent power of suggestion, allowing the viewer to explore descriptive possibilities through Brown’s mastery of the material.

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin (LPASG) – USD 8 million

Pumpkin (LPASG) by Yayoi Kusama. (Image: Christie’s)

Painted in 2013, Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin (LPASG) perfectly presents the duo of elements for which her work has become iconic and instantly recognisable: pumpkins and polka dots. As a child in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan, Kusama found herself captivated by pumpkins, and it was to this childhood curiosity that she turned when she first began experiencing hallucinations in the 1940s.

Her first works, which featured pumpkins, allowed respite from the intensity of her predilections. She soon moved to New York City, debuting her first solo exhibition within the year. Her Pumpkin (LPASG) features the hallmarks of her art, marrying a kaleidoscopic expanse of repeated dots and nets done in vivid yellow over darkest black to create the illusion of visual depth. On December 1 2021, the painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, netting USD 8 million and landing Kusama 10th on our list of most expensive artists alive.

Cady Noland, Bluewald – USD 9.8 million

Sold in 2011 by Christies for USD 9.8 million, Cady Noland’s Bluewald explores the uncomfortable intersection of violence and celebrity, evoking one of the most iconic incidents in United States history. First created in 1989, Bluewald is a screen painting on aluminium portraying Lee Harvey Oswald moments before he is pierced by a bullet following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, for which he is widely believed to be responsible.

The resultant piece echoes with Warholian inspirations but relies on Noland’s interpretations of the American Dream and its opposite, which she calls the ‘American Nightmare’ to evoke the grit and barbarity upon which America was founded. To date, the painting remains one of the most expensive pieces sold by a living artist.

Jenny Saville, Propped – USD 12.4 million

Propped by Jenny Saville. (Image: Sothesby’s)

53-year-old contemporary British painter Jenny Saville is a living artist who created one of the most expensive pieces of our age. An oil-on-canvas piece painted in 1992, Propped propelled Saville onto the world stage when it was sold at a Sotheby’s London auction in 2018.

The piece was purchased by a phone-in bidder, who ultimately paid £ 9.5 million (approx. USD 12.4 million) to acquire it. As one of Saville’s most prominent paintings, Propped is a superlative self-portrait that challenges female beauty standards, drawing inspiration from historical art masters the likes of Rubens, Rembrandt, de Kooning, and Freud. Profound vulnerability and painterly excess are displayed in full, highlighting Saville’s brilliance in stroke and technique.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (599) – USD 44.5 million

Abstraktes Bild (599) by Gerhard Richter. (Image: Sothesby’s)

An abstract piece that marries sweeping strokes in primary colours with profound depth and light play, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (599) has made him a worthy inclusion in our list of living artists with the most expensive pieces today. An oil-on-canvas piece painted in 1986, Abstraktes Bild (599) depicts Richter’s battle with the squeegee and the brush, resulting in an enigmatic and mesmerising field of contrasting and yet complementary hues.

Fetching a staggering USD 44.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2015, it is one of the most expensive works of art to be sold belonging to a living artist.

Ed Ruscha, Hurting the Word Radio #2 – USD 52.4 million

most expensive living artists
Hurting the Word Radio #2 by Ed Ruscha. (Image: Christie’s)

Inspired by Pop Art greats the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha’s very own take on the style found success in equal measures with the sale of Hurting the Word Radio #2. Ruscha is widely considered to be the founding father of his style, utilising words as visual constructs within the confines of his paintings. This piece, with its distinct yellow-on-blue text, is the perfect representation of Ruscha’s C-Clamp paintings, depicting C-Clamps that cause injury to the R and the O, as if to evoke the imagery of static on the radio.

One of Ruscha’s earliest works, the piece was sold at a 2019 Christie’s auction, where it fetched USD 52.4 million, marking his place as one of the most expensive and valuable artists of our time.

Jasper Johns, Small False Start – USD 55.3 million

Small False Start by Jasper Johns. (Image: Christie’s)

While Jasper Johns’ art pieces have not fetched the highest price at auction, do not be fooled. Most known for his series of American flags painted in the historical hot wax technique, this Neo-Dada artist is one of the most valuable contemporary painters in the world, boasting a net worth of USD 300 million.

In 1960, Johns painted False Start, an encaustic, acrylic, and paper collage on fiberboard piece featuring his signature bold pop elements: vividly contrasting colours, stencilled text, abstractions, and an amalgamation of materials. A masterpiece in orange, blue, and yellow, the Small False Start colour lithograph was auctioned at the sale of Paul Allen’s billion-dollar collection by Christie’s in 2022, fetching USD 55.3 million and cementing Johns’ place as one of the most expensive living artists of our time.

Beeple, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS – USD 69.3 million

most expensive living artists
EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS by Beeple. (Image: Beeple)

The work of Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS made history in 2021 when it became the most expensive digital work of art in the world, earning the most expensive bid in an online-only auction. From a bird’s eye view, EVERYDAYS appears as a pixelated and jumbled mess indicative of the noise we might experience in the digital world. Closer inspection reveals the piece to be a collage comprising 5,000 digital pictures created over 5,000 days straight. The lot was sold for USD 69.3 million, and it is currently displayed in a virtual museum within the Metaverse.

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Upon its sale, the artwork broke numerous records: it is now the most expensive digital piece ever sold, the third most expensive work of a living artist, the highest price for any lot in an online-only auction, the highest price for any winning online bid, and the highest total for an online-only auction.

Sacha Jeffri, The Journey of Humanity – USD 62 million

An incredible feat of artistry and philanthropy, Sacha Jeffri’s The Journey of Humanity occupies the largest canvas in the world, comprising 70 panels measuring over 17,000 square feet. Going under the gavel in a 2021 Dubai charity auction, the piece was ideated to raise funds for children affected by the pandemic; it eventually fetched a hefty USD 62 million from French crypto businessman André Abdoune, making Jeffri one of the most expensive and valuable living artists today.

Jeffri famously created the artwork over more than seven months in the ballroom of a Dubai hotel, where he stayed amidst pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. The piece itself incorporates elements reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s iconic style; at the same time, Jeffri also incorporated the artwork of children from over 140 nations, imbuing the piece with his hopes and dreams of providing aid to little ones in need. As promised, Jeffri donated the proceeds from the sale to children’s charities.

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) – USD 90.3 million

most expensive living artists
Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) by David Hockney. (Image: The David Hockney Foundation)

English painter David Hockney ranks second on our list of the living artists with the most expensive pieces ever sold in an auction, and rightly so. As one of the most influential artists of our time, his work spans across the Pop Art, Modern Art, and Cubism periods, with his most iconic piece fetching USD 90.3 million at a Christie’s New York auction in 2018 following nine tense minutes of bidding. Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which was completed in 1972, marries two of Hockney’s chief recurring themes between the 60s and 70s — a pool, and a double portrait.

In perfecting the composition for the inspired piece, Hockney staged hundreds of photographs in a villa outside Saint-Tropez. He then returned home to London, where he assembled the results of his work with photographs of his former lover, Peter Schlesinger. The resultant art piece features Schlesinger in the place of the man standing beside the pool, and Hockney himself as the figure in the water. Ultimately, the piece was Hockney’s ode to water, an element he has described as being a ‘formal problem’. Regarding his affinity for water, he has said, “[The pool paintings] were about the surface of the water, the very thin film, the shimmering two-dimensionality.”

Jeff Koons, Rabbit – USD 91.1 million

Topping our list of the most expensive art ever sold by a living artist is Jeff Koons’ iconic Rabbit. Sculpted of stainless steel in 1986, the three-foot-tall oversized Rabbit is one of three editions of the same sculpture, plus an artists’ proof. The only remaining Rabbit left in the hands of private collectors, it is considered the ‘holy grail’ of contemporary art collectors seeking to get their hands on Koons’ work. Koons, who is known for producing works that warrant contemplation and discourse envisioned his Rabbit with contradiction in its form; an almost violent, yet tiny carrot is held from the Rabbit’s hands, creating a striking contrast against the cherub-like roundness of its torso and face.

In a 2019 auction held by Christie’s, Rabbit made history by fetching an astounding USD 91.1 million, signed and sealed after a nail-biting bidding battle of over 10 minutes. While the iconic sculpture had been expected to fetch an estimated USD 50 to 70 million, its final realised amount was a clear indicator of Koons’ work and its place in modern art. The price for which it was sold has landed Koons solidly first in our list, cementing his place as the world’s most expensive and valuable living artist.

(Main images: Museum of Modern Art, Christie’s; featured image: Christie’s)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– Who is the most expensive living artist today?

Jeff Koons is the most expensive living artist today, having set the record for the most expensive piece ever sold at auction with the sale of Rabbit for USD 91.1 million in 2019.

– Who is the richest living artist?

With a net worth of USD 400 million, Jeff Koons is the richest living artist in the world.

Source: Prestige Online

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