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The Most Expensive Living Artists

December 23, 2008

In the May 2004 issue of ARTnews, I attempted to track the highest prices paid for contemporary artworks. At the time, the art market boom was just beginning to spur extraordinarily indulgent prices. Jeff Koons barely made the list. Damien Hirst didn’t.

johnsWho are the most expensive living artists?

To find out, ARTnews interviewed dealers in the United States and abroad, consulted auction specialists, and surveyed auction results. Artists were considered based on the sum paid for a single work of art—regardless of how many works have sold at that level, the production costs involved in creating the work, or how prices for new works measure up.

The top ten, in alphabetical order, are Lucian Freud, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Brice Marden, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly. All of them have achieved single-work sales of $5 million or more, while some have multiplied that figure many times over.

Works by Johns are by far the most expensive. Entertainment mogul David Geffen privately paid around $40 million, according to sources, to acquire Gray Numbers from the collection of Kimiko and John Powers a few years ago. It is the highest price known to have been paid, sources say, for a work by a living artist.

Like the auction-record $82.5 million paid in 1990 for van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890), eight-figure sums typically are reserved for works by artists no longer with us. The names of only two living artists—Johns and Nauman—appear on a list compiled by Christie’s of the 200 most expensive objects auctioned by Sotheby’s and Christie’s since 1985. Johns, whose False Start (1959) fetched an auction record $17 million in 1988, easily ranks among the top 100. Nauman, whose Henry Moore Bound to Fail (1967) sold for $9.9 million in 2001, falls near the end of the list, between a $10.9 million 1778 Louis XVI commode by Jean-Henri Riesener and a $9.8 million 1931 Bugatti motorcar.

Download the full article here.

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