The Most In-Demand Artists on Artsy in 2020
As it has for most sectors of the global economy, 2020 has been a year without precedent for the art market. The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled most major in-person events, forcing fairs, auctions, and many exhibitions to take place primarily online. As a result, the art market contracted. One report found that gallery sales had dropped 36% in the first half of the year; another report charted a 49% drop in auction sales at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s over the same period. But the halting of most in-person art market moments due to COVID-19 around the end of the first quarter of 2020 also meant an explosion in online activity as artists, galleries, auction houses, and collectors turned to digital platforms to show, discover, buy, and sell art. The most recent installment of the Hiscox online art trade report found that 67% of the art buyers surveyed had purchased art online between March and September, up from 44% in 2019.
Artsy data reflects the art market’s widespread shift online this year. The volume of e-commerce purchases on the platform was up each quarter this year compared to the same periods in 2019. In the second quarter, as the pandemic’s severity became evident, the value of purchases made using Artsy’s e-commerce functionality increased 136.3% and the number of unique buyers using that functionality surged 247.7% year over year. That isn’t to say collectors were totally unaffected by the mood of uncertainty brought on by COVID-19: As the number of purchases made through Artsy’s e-commerce options increased 151.5% from the first quarter of the year to the second, the average value of artworks purchased by those means slightly decreased by 12.9%.
The number of purchases made through Artsy’s e-commerce functionality dipped from the second quarter of 2020 to the third, reflecting the art world’s traditionally slower summer months, as well as the partial return of in-person events. But the average value of works purchased increased 27.3% over the same period, suggesting collector confidence at higher prices. Additionally, the number of unique buyers who made e-commerce purchases on Artsy more than doubled in the third quarter of 2020 year over year.
In the second quarter, as the pandemic’s severity became evident, the value of purchases made using Artsy’s e-commerce functionality increased 136.3% and the number of unique buyers using that functionality surged 247.7% year over year.
The uptick in activity on Artsy this year was also apparent in auctions conducted on the platform. From the first quarter of the year to the second, there was a 30% increase in the number of bidders per lot across all auctions on the platform. The increase was driven in part by a 53.8% uptick in bidders per lot at benefit auctions hosted on Artsy from the first quarter of 2020 to the second, suggesting collectors were drawn to philanthropic causes supporting groups impacted by COVID-19. In the third quarter, which includes what are typically the slowest months in the art market, online activity remained exceptionally strong. Artsy saw double the number of online-only auctions held on the platform in the third quarter of 2020 and a 267.6% increase in the total value of works sold at online-only auctions in that period compared to the third quarter of 2019.
Below, we’ll look more closely at Artsy data to see which artists had the most demand overall on the platform—and specifically at auctions and fairs held on Artsy. We’ll also tally shifts in demand by medium to see if trendy media like video art and ceramics are catching up to paintings and prints. For the purposes of this report, we’ll compare data from the first 11 months of 2020 to data from the same period in 2019; unless a figure is specifically identified as representing all of 2019, it pertains only to the months of January through November to provide the most accurate point of comparison with available data for 2020.
The most in-demand artists on Artsy
The most in-demand artists on Artsy this year in terms of the number of users inquiring about buying their work are a set of market-beloved street and Pop artists led by KAWS, Banksy, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Keith Haring. KAWS, the former street artist known for his eminently collectible vinyl figures and paintings of iconic cartoon characters with their eyes x-ed out, led the pack. More Artsy users inquired on his work than any other artist on the platform in 2020; KAWS had 22.4% more users inquire on his work than the next-closest artist, Banksy.
That said, the secretive British artist narrowed the gap from the previous year, when Banksy had the third highest total of users inquiring on an artist’s works, behind KAWS and Warhol. While the number of users inquiring on works by KAWS and Warhol changed very little from 2019 to 2020, the number who inquired on art by Banksy shot up 29.3%. Other than the second-place shuffle, the six artists whose work was inquired upon by the greatest number of Artsy users in 2020 are the exact same as in 2019, with Hirst, Murakami, and Haring holding steady at fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively.
Of the 20 artists whose work was inquired on by the greatest number of Artsy users in 2020, 19 are men. The lone female artist on the list, Yayoi Kusama, saw the number of users inquiring on her work increase by 20.1% year over year. Despite that, she actually fell one place, from 13th on the list in 2019 to 14th this year. That shift was due to a spike in demand for works by Daniel Arsham, the artist known for his futuristic sculptures of familiar objects rendered as crystal-encrusted fossils. The number of users inquiring on his work shot up 69.6% from 2019 to 2020, moving him from 20th place last year to 13th place in 2020, just ahead of Kusama.
Artists with surging demand
When looking at the artists with the biggest increase in the number of people inquiring about their work on Artsy from 2019 to 2020, the top seven artists with the biggest percentage changes were all Black.
Artists with surging demand in 2020
Gerald Lovell, the Atlanta-based painter known for his thickly impastoed portraits, saw the greatest increase in demand, with the number of users inquiring about his work on Artsy increasing thirtyfold year over year. The rise in demand for Lovell’s work outpaced the fivefold year-over-year increase in the supply of his work on the platform. He was followed by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, the British-born, New York–based artist whose paintings of streamlined and intensely chromatic figures evoke the forms of Henri Matisse. While the number of works by Adeniyi-Jones offered on Artsy more than tripled from 2019 to 2020, the number of inquirers on those works grew more than 26x over the same period. Rounding out the top three is Knowledge Bennett, the Los Angeles–based artist known for his poignant riffs on canonic Pop art. The number of his works offered on Artsy more than tripled from 2019 to 2020, but the number of people inquiring on those works surged 23x.
In addition to a predictably strong cohort of young and emerging artists, the 80-year-old self-taught artist Jessie Homer French and Luchita Hurtado, the beloved Venezuelan-born painter who died in August at age 99, both saw major surges in demand that landed them in the top 20. The number of users inquiring on French’s work increased more than twelvefold year over year, outpacing a nearly fivefold increase in the supply of her work available on Artsy in the same period, good for the 10th biggest rise in demand. Hurtado’s number of inquirers grew over sevenfold, landing her at a tie for 17th on the list; over the same period, the number of her works offered on Artsy increased more than fivefold.
The list of the 20 artists who saw the biggest rise in demand on Artsy this year skews male, especially at the top. There are 11 male artists on the list, including seven of the top 10.
Painters dominate the list, but a few other media are represented. Tomashi Jackson, whose work spans printmaking, collage, painting, video, sculpture, and more, saw the number of collectors inquiring about her work on Artsy spike more than fourteenfold year over year (the supply of her work on the platform increased ninefold over the same period). The number of people inquiring on works by South African photographer Alice Mann surged over tenfold, while the number of her works offered on Artsy doubled over the same period. The number of people inquiring on works by Malawi-born textile artist Billie Zangewa increased more than 9x from 2019 to 2020, while the supply of her works on the platform increased by two-thirds. And the Italian artist Fabio Viale, known for sculptures that resemble elaborately tattooed marble antiquities, saw interest in his work spike more than 8x this year while the supply of his work on the platform grew just 20% from 2019 to 2020, landing him at 15th on the list.
The most in-demand art by medium
While artists known for their paintings saw the biggest upswings in demand on Artsy this year, the medium that performed the best in terms of purchases made on the platform was printmaking. Prints accounted for 40.9% of all purchases on the site in 2020, almost exactly the same share as in 2019. Purchases of prints via the platform rose 24.5% from 2019 to 2020. Purchases of prints spiked in particular this year in the spring and fall months, when major print fairs held their virtual editions on Artsy.
Paintings accounted for the second biggest share of purchases on Artsy in 2020 by medium, as they had in 2019. Purchases of paintings on the platform increased 26.2% year over year, and accounted for 20.6% of all purchases in 2020 (up less than a percentage point from 2019 as a share of all purchases on platform).
Purchases of prints spiked in particular this year in the spring and fall months, when major print fairs held their virtual editions on Artsy.
Sculpture surpassed photography in 2020 to become the third-most purchased medium on Artsy. Purchases of sculptures on the platform rose by 39.2% from 2019 to 2020, accounting for 11.9% of all purchases in 2020 compared to 10.5% of all purchases in 2019. Photography purchases, meanwhile, decreased by two percentage points from 2019 to 2020, accounting for 10.4% of all purchases on the platform this year—down from 12.3% of all purchases in 2019. This switch may be attributable to a growing comfort among collectors with buying three-dimensional works without seeing them in person, especially when doing so became virtually impossible due to the pandemic.
Among other media, there was relatively little change in the share of overall purchases attributed to any one medium from 2019 to this year. Purchases of drawings, collages, and other works on paper shot up 45.4% from 2019 to 2020. Textile artworks also trended upwards, with purchases in 2020 increasing 48% from 2019. Despite many of us being stuck at home and omnivorously devouring content for much of 2020, purchases of video, film, and animation art did not see a significant uptick this year.
The most in-demand artists at fairs
The beloved British octogenarian David Hockney was the most in-demand artist at fairs hosted on Artsy this year. He saw the greatest number of people inquiring on works uploaded to art fairs on the platform in 2020. Last year, Hockney was second and Yayoi Kusama topped the list of artists with the most inquirers among artists with works at fairs, but in 2020, she fell to sixth on the list. Their switch is notable considering that Hockney had more works available for sale on Artsy in both years. The number of works by Kusama available for sale at fairs on Artsy actually increased 78.5% from 2019 to 2020, while the number of Hockney works available at fairs on the platform grew by 50%. Nevertheless, 26.2% more users inquired on works by Hockney at fairs on Artsy this year than on works by Kusama. Between Hockney and Kusama, the rest of the top six this year is made up of blue-chip painters and contemporary art stars: Alex Katz, Mr. Brainwash, Andy Warhol, and Julian Opie.
Kusama was one of only two women among the top 20 most in-demand artists at fairs on Artsy. The other, Op art legend Bridget Riley, was 17th. Meanwhile, the prolific and proficient artist Derrick Adams was among the 20 artists with the most inquirers at fairs in both 2019 and 2020, but moved up five spots on the list this year to 10th place thanks to a 72.5% spike in inquirers. Prince Gyasi, the Ghanaian photographer who is in the midst of a major art market upswing, had the ninth-most inquirers on works offered at fairs on Artsy this year, up from 29th place on last year’s list thanks to a 202.3% surge in inquirers. Gyasi’s jump can also be attributed to a 94.7% increase in available works of his at fairs on Artsy.
Inquirers by medium at fairs in 2020 vs. 2019
Painting was once again by far the most in-demand medium at fairs on Artsy in terms of individual inquirers, doubling the second highest category, which was prints. That said, prints closed the gap somewhat from 2019 thanks to a year-over-year increase of 71.1% in the number of users who inquired on prints at fairs on Artsy. Nevertheless, there was relatively little change among the most in-demand media at fairs on Artsy, with the five categories with the most inquirers holding steady from 2019 to 2020: paintings; prints; sculptures; drawings, collages, and other works on paper; and photographs.
Purchases by medium at fairs in 2020 vs. 2019
However, when looking at actual purchases from fairs on Artsy, prints led, accounting for 31.8% of the total purchases of works at fairs on the platform this year. That amounts to a major uptick from 2019, when prints made up 18.5% of purchases at fairs on Artsy, and paintings were the most purchased medium, accounting for 32.2% of purchases. The number of prints offered for sale at fairs on Artsy more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, while the number of paintings on offer increased by 76.8%, which may partly explain the change in their share of purchases. Macroeconomic factors like more cautious buying patterns among collectors during a global pandemic may also help to explain the shift, as prints tend to transact at lower price points than paintings.
The most in-demand artists at auction
The most in-demand artists at auctions held on Artsy this year closely matched last year’s leaders—as well as the overall demand trends on the platform. The four artists whose works were bid on by the most bidders during auctions on Artsy in 2020 were the same as in 2019, with KAWS far and away at the top, followed by Banksy, Takashi Murakami, and Shepard Fairey. While bidders on works by KAWS had more than double the number of bidders on works by Banksy in 2019, the British street artist narrowed the gap somewhat in 2020 thanks to a 45.8% increase in the number of bidders on his auction lots on the platform (the number of bidders for works by KAWS grew a little over 15.6% in the same period).
The continued dominance of KAWS, Banksy, Murakami, and Fairey at auctions on Artsy this year is partly explained by the supply of lots. KAWS and Banksy had the most works come to auction on the platform in 2020, followed by Pablo Picasso, and then Murakami and Fairey. Despite having the third-most lots offered at auction this year, Picasso ranked 18th in terms of the number of bidders who competed for those lots (down 14.1% from his number of bidders in 2019).
Artists with the greatest share of all bidders at auctions in 2020
Just beyond the consistent top four, Artsy auction data may be showing early signs of a Damien Hirst comeback. The superstar Young British Artist had the fifth-most bidders of any artist at auctions on Artsy in 2020 after ranking eighth in 2019, with his total number of bidders surging 46% between 2019 and 2020.
While Hirst’s stock may be rising, three giants of 20th-century modernism fell out of the top 10 this year. Salvador Dalí fell from having the sixth-most bidders in 2019 to the 15th-most in 2020; Roy Lichtenstein tumbled from seventh place to 20th place; and Joan Miró dropped from ninth place to 24th place due to a 52.9% year-over-year drop in bidders. They were supplanted by a trio of trendy contemporary artists whose works saw dramatic increases in bidders at auctions on Artsy from 2019 to 2020. The number of bidders on works by Yoshitomo Nara rose 63.5%, pushing him from 19th place last year to seventh place in 2020. Bidders on works by David Shrigley increased by 54.3%, pushing him from 22nd place in 2019 to 11th place in 2020. And the number of bidders on works by The Connor Brothers more than doubled, allowing them to shoot from 26th on the list in 2019 to eighth place in 2020.
There were two female artists among the 25 artists with the most bidders at auctions on Artsy in 2020: Tracey Emin and Yayoi Kusama. Emin moved up four spots—from 25th in 2019 to 21st in 2020. While Yayoi Kusama ranked 13th in total number of bidders in 2019, she fell to number 22 in 2020.
The outlook for 2021
This has been an anomalous year in countless ways, but some of the transformations we’ve seen in the art world might more accurately be described as accelerations of changes already underway. Artsy’s data reflects the art market’s broad embrace of selling art online when it became virtually the only sales channel available amid international lockdowns.
The continued dominance of artists like KAWS, Banksy, Takashi Murakami, and Shepard Fairey attests to the potential success of pursuing broad bases of support and fandom beyond the blue-chip art world. Viral news stories, legions of social media followers, and crossover collaborations with major brands can now provide just as big a boost to an artist’s market as inclusion in a closely watched biennial. The rising standing of artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Daniel Arsham in this year’s data suggests we’ll likely see more artists pursuing these parallel tracks to success.
Artsy’s data reflects the art market’s broad embrace of selling art online when it became virtually the only sales channel available amid international lockdowns.
The diverse set of artists whose work sparked huge surges in demand this year may also reflect a desire to support and center the stories and perspectives of groups that have historically been marginalized in the art world and beyond. This is a shift that has been playing out, albeit slowly, in the art market for years already, but undoubtedly gained urgency this year in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Those protests have prompted important debates about market speculation works of artists of color and systemic racism in the art world.
The adaptive trends outlined here seem destined to continue in 2021, as the art world continues to deal with a global pandemic and the accompanying economic fallout. Rather than seeking a return to how things were before COVID-19, the market will thrive in proportion to its ability to embrace and adapt to changes that were already underway but which undoubtedly gained momentum in 2020.
Notes on methodology: All data for this analysis is from internal Artsy sources. Data for the current year was taken only from artworks uploaded to Artsy during the period of January 1, 2020, to November 30, 2020. All data around uploaded works, inquirers, bidders, bids, and purchases analyzed and discussed for the current year in this article was based on data from the same period. For year-over-year comparisons, data from the period of January 1, 2019, to November 30, 2019, was used to provide the most accurate point of comparison with available data for the current year.
Header image: David Hockney, Tangerines, 2010. Courtesy of Dallas Collectors Club. Tomashi Jackson, Dark Alliance Blues, 2020. Courtesy of Night Gallery. Daniel Arsham, Ash Eroded Laptop, 2013. Courtesy of Perrotin. Chase Hall, Limosa Fedoa, 2020. Courtesy of Various Small Fires. Yayoi Kusama, Flowers (5), 1999. Courtesy of Koller Auctions.