Annual Contemporary Art Sales Hit Record $3.67B With Help From NFTs

The explosion of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) representing digital art has helped the art community rebound after a down 2020. 

The contemporary art market has hit an all-time high in annual sales on the back of the exploding NFT market. According to a recent report from Artprice, the market rebounded from a down year and has seen an all-time high in sales over the last year of around $3.67 billion. The report suggests that the arrival of NFTs in the mainstream, along with the staggering prices some bring, have helped to contribute to such record-breaking numbers.

According to the CEO of Artprice, Thierry Ehrmann, “auctioneers quickly adopted a more online approach. Photography and prints have been particularly successful in this new online environment and in 2021, we have seen the sensational arrival of completely dematerialized artworks, the famous NFTs.” The study finds that NFTs accounted for around 33% of all online sales over the last year, totaling 2% of the total art market. 

NFTs digitizing contemporary art

While digital art accounts for just 2% of the globe’s art market, there have been some individual sales that make that number seem a bit higher. Beeple, for example, has set a high bar for NFT art sales after auctioning off a piece named “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days,” for $69.3 million. The price paid was the third-highest price paid for a piece of work from a living artist. The auction was hosted at Christie’s Auction House and saw more than 20 million people log onto the sale. 

For comparison, the most successful contemporary artist is the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose artwork began to gain acclaim after his untimely death in 1988. Basquiat’s art has sold for more than $93 million over the last year. Beeple is second. Taking up the third spot on the list is Chen Danqing, a 68-year-old Chinese artist who specializes in oil paintings. 

If we step away from total sales dollars and focus on the volume of sales, 3D artist Kaws takes the top spot. Kaws has sold around 1,700 pieces of art this year. Buyers of Kaws artworks include music artists Justin Bieber and Pharrell Williams. Takashi Murakami ranks second with around 1,600 works sold. Billie Eilish is one of his clients.

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