10 Most Expensive Contemporary Artists

'Balloon Dog (Blue), 1994-2000' Jeff Koons | © Tom Ipri/Flickr
'Balloon Dog (Blue), 1994-2000' Jeff Koons | © Tom Ipri/Flickr
Photo of Lily Cichanowicz
28 December 2016

Contemporary art is all the rage right now. In recent times, this artistic genre has become known for more than its propensity to push boundaries and explore new mediums. The contemporary art market has also reached record-breaking numbers in sales over the past few years. Here are the most expensive contemporary artists you need to know.

Giovanni Anselmo

Giovanni Anselmo is an Italian sculptor and member of the artistic movement of the ’60s and ’70s known as Arte Provera. The movement was popular in the country as Anselmo was first starting out as an artist, and it was largely driven by the radical intent of deconstructing accepted cultural and institutional norms. Born in 1934, Anselmo began creating art after WWII. His 1968 work Tosione sold for $6.4 million at Christie’s New York. The piece is made of metal and twisted flannel. Many of his works feature a myriad of different materials used in conjunction with one another.

Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor is the most expensive contemporary artist from India. More specifically, Kapoor is a British-Indian sculptor. He is responsible for the ‘Cloud Gate’ sculptor in Chicago. Initially popular among European and American artists, his work has recently become a favorite of Middle Eastern collectors. His auction turnover is €12.3 million, and he ranked number 11 on Artprice’s Top 500 for the years 2012-13. He also broke the record for the highest auction price for a single piece in the Middle East with his work Untitled in 2009. It sold for $1.595 million. Meanwhile, Kapoor’s highest auction price for a single piece was in 2008 when his work sold for £1.94 million.

'Cloud Gate' by Anish Kapoor | © Robert Lowe/Flickr

Luo Zhongli

Luo Zhongli is another superstar of the contemporary art world in Asia. The Chinese artist is known for his portraits of farmers and paintings of rural scenery in his home country. He studied oil painting at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. The artist made Artprice’s Top 500 for grossing over €25 million at auction. In 2013, a single painting titled Spring Silkworms sold for $6.4 million at Christie’s of Hong Kong’s Era of Asia art sale. There is no doubt that Luo Zhongli is one of China’s premier realist painters of the contemporary era.

Brice Marden

Brice Marden is a painter whose work is difficult to classify into any one movement, though he is often deemed part of the school of minimalism. Born in 1938, Marden earned his BFA at Boston University and his MFA from Yale School of Art and Architecture. During this time, he also became involved in the world of folk and lived at Joan Baez’s house for a time, ultimately marrying her sister, Pauline. Jasper Johns is often cited as one of Marden’s influences. One of his later paintings, The Attended earned $10.9 million at auction in 2013. Today, Marden is renowned for helping to re-popularize the classic medium of painting within the contemporary scene.

'Propitious Garden 3' Brice Marden | © Mark Barry/Flickr

Zeng Fanzhi

Zeng Fanzhi is undoubtedly the king of the Chinese contemporary art scene. One of his recent paintings sold for almost €59.7 million at auction, and he was ranked at number four in Artprice’s Top 500. Even Fanhzhi’s early work was sold for staggering amounts of money. In 2013, his Hospital Triptych No. 3 sold for $14.7 million, the most expensive sale at the auction. More recently, his The Last Supper set the world record for the most expensive piece of Asian contemporary art. It sold for $23.3 million alone. The work is based on Da Vinci’s classic painting of the same title except that Jesus and his 12 apostles are replaced with members of a young communist group called the Young Pioneers.

Peter Doig

Peter Doig is a world-renowned figurative painter from Scotland. His work contains pervading themes of magical realism, and many of his works feature canoes and scenes from nature. In 2007, his painting White Canoe broke the record for the highest price of a painting sold at auction in Europe. The painting sold at Sotheby’s in London for $11.3 million. In 2015, his 1990 painting Swamped brought in $25.9 million at auction in New York, setting another auction record for the most expensive painting by a Scottish artist. Today, Doig has relocated to the paradisaical Trinidad.

Peter Doig | © Honkadori/WikiCommons

Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool is a contemporary artist whose work explores post-conceptual ideas. He was briefly trained as a painter in New York City, but subsequently dropped out of school and became enthralled in the underground film and music scene in the city during the 1970s and ’80s. His most iconic work features black stenciled block letters on white canvas. One of these pieces called Apocalypse Now auctioned for $26.5 million in 2013. Before this, Christie had gained relative success with a previous auction record of $7.7 million, but it was his 2013 auction success that ultimately thrust him into artistic stardom.

Christopher Wool at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | © Jules Antonio/Flickr

Jasper Johns

Born in 1930, Jasper Johns is known for his rebelliousness in the face of the predominating abstract expressionist art scene of his time. More specifically, Jasper Johns’ work depicts blatant and plain prints and paintings of signs, flags, numbers, and common symbols that already possess clear meaning. Johns’ most celebrated works are his paintings of the American flag. In fact, his best-selling work is titled Flag. This piece, painted between 1960-1966, sold for $28.6 million at Christie’s New York auction in 2010. Today, Jasper Johns is regarded as one of the greatest printmakers ever to live. He is also said to have had a prolific influence on the Conceptual Art and Pop Minimal movements that emerged in the 1960s and ’70s.

'Map' by Jasper Johns | © Dano/Flickr

Gerhard Richter

Born in 1932, Gerhard Richter is a German contemporary painter. Much of his work is shaped by his experience growing up in Dresden during WWII and the following Cold War period. Originally trained in Socialist Realism, Richter eventually moved to Düsseldorf in the west and found his passion in avant-garde-style art. According to Artnet, Gerhard Richter’s 1986 painting Abstraktes Bild sold for almost $46.4 million in 2015 at a Sotheby’s London auction. Most of his work is abstract, but Richter has also created some photorealistic works. His predecessors Picasso and Jean Arp inspired this tendency in their own defiance of the notion that an artist must abide by a single style.

'Abstraktes Bild (Nº 635)' Gerhard Richter | © Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr

Jeff Koons

We couldn’t talk about the most expensive contemporary artists in the world without mentioning Jeff Koons. His work largely features three-dimensional reproductions of pop culture icons as well as mundane objects. Koons, an American artist, broke the record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist. His Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $58.4 million at a Christie’s New York auction, beating out Gerhard Richter for the title. His gilded Michael Jackson and Bubbles also yielded a hefty $5.4 million at auction some years prior at Sotheby’s New York. More than 1,300 of Koons’ works have already been sold at auction so far in his career.

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