Art Market

9 Key Insights on the Auction Market in 2021

Artsy Editorial
Dec 17, 2021 9:10PM

As 2021 nears its close, we look back at the major developments we witnessed at auction this year. From numerous splashy sales of NFTs to the return of the shredded Banksy to the $676 million Macklowe sale, this year was not lacking in salesroom drama. The past 12 months have also been rife with auction debuts, as more and more emerging artists’ works are entering the secondary market. Here, we share nine key insights, powered by the Artsy Price Database, on the artists, mediums, and genres that made an impact at auction in 2021.

These six artists represent 25% of the market in 2021

This year, 25% of the total value of the auction market was concentrated to six artists. As one might expect, they are all familiar, blue-chip mainstays, led by Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

More work by women and people of color is breaking $1 million records


While the top of the market is largely still led by white male artists, this is not the case among the 19 living artists that set new auction records over $1 million for the first time this year. Here, we show the record-breaking works from this group, the majority of which were made by women and BIPOC artists. The market attention surrounding historically underrepresented groups coincides with the rise in flipping; notably, almost half of these record-breaking works were created in the past five years. (Editor’s note: This data set does not include NFTs.)

These deceased artists are getting their due at auction

The 12 deceased artists represented here gained renewed attention on the secondary market this year. These artists’ works set new auction records and broke $1 million for the first time. Notably, this list, too, reflects strong demand for work by women and BIPOC artists, featuring a number of artists who have been gaining overdue acclaim at galleries and museums in recent years, including Robert Colescott, Charles White, and Leonor Fini.

Aboudia and Mr Doodle were among the top living artists with the most works sold at auction

While it’s no surprise to find that Banksy, David Hockney, and Yayoi Kusama had the most works sold at auction in 2021, it is unusual to find that the rising young artists Aboudia and Mr Doodle rounded out the top 10. Both artists made waves on the secondary market this year, and their markets grew significantly since 2020: The number of works sold at auction by Aboudia and Mr Doodle this year increased by 445% and 181% since 2020, respectively.

These are the most expensive works created after 2010 that sold in 2021

This sector of the most expensive paintings sold this year includes several headline-making sales. Banksy’s Love is in the Bin (2021) takes the #1 slot after the the notoriously shredded piece resold in October; and at #11 is Julie Mehretu’s record-setting Dissident Score (2019–21), which sold earlier this year on Artsy, with all the proceeds benefiting the Art for Justice Fund.

Figuration represents 87% of the auction market for in-demand paintings made after 2010

In 2021, the demand for paintings by emerging artists soared, with 351 paintings made after 2010 selling for more than five times their low estimate. Within this segment of paintings, figuration dominates over abstraction, representing 87% of the works. Artists featured in this group include Banksy, Matthew Wong, Flora Yukhnovich, Emily Mae Smith, Loie Hollowell, Cecily Brown, Jadé Fadojutimi, and Stanley Whitney.

These artists under 35 are making waves at auction

A strong cohort of young artists gained serious traction on the secondary market in 2021. Here, we show the 10 artists under 35 with the highest total value of works sold at auction this year. Notably, Jadé Fadojutimi achieved unprecedented auction sales in October, when her record was broken three times in successive days. And the one NFT artist represented here, the 18-year-old FEWOCiOUS, became the youngest artist to be featured by Christie’s when a series of their NFTs sold in the seven-figure range in July.

These NFT artists are making waves at auction houses

Few factors rocked the art market this year more than NFTs. Beeple’s record-breaking $69.3 million sale at Christie’s in June affirmed the increasing demand for NFTs on the secondary market. Some of the most sought-after NFTs sold at the major auction houses this year were made by collectives that generate multiple characters in a distinctive style such as Larva Labs—the creators of Cryptopunks—and Yuga Labs, known for their Bored Apes.

For the price of one Beeple NFT, you could’ve bought 130 works by critically acclaimed artists

The $69.3 million selling price for Beeple’s EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS (2021) is equivalent to the sum of all 130 works that sold in 2021 by nine acclaimed artists: Salman Toor, Rashid Johnson, Amoako Boafo, Mickalene Thomas, Loie Hollowell, Kerry James Marshall, Titus Kaphar, and Nicole Eisenman.

This report was powered by the Artsy Price Database, which tracks millions of auction results for works by more than 340,000 artists. Sourced from over 900 auction houses, including the leading institutions, the database allows collectors to filter by artist, sale date, keywords, artwork size, and price—and it’s free.

Notes on methodology:

All data for this analysis is from internal Artsy sources. Data for the current year was taken only from artworks sold for over $10,000 at auction from January 1 to early December 2021. Data does not include major auction houses hosting sales on NFT platforms. All prices are in U.S. dollars and include auction house fees.

Artsy Editorial

Thumbnail image: A man bids on an artwork at Christie’s. Photo by Spencer Platt. Photo via Getty Images.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019