Top 20 Contemporary Artists
List of Best-Selling Postmodernist Painters, Sculptors.

Little Cadet (2001) Zhang Xiaogang.
See: Art Evaluation.

Contemporary Visual Artists: Pre-Recession


World's Top-Selling Contemporary Artists
What is Contemporary Art? Who is a Contemporary Artist?
The Top 10
The Top 20
List of the World's Top Selling Contemporary Artists
Contemporary Art Movements

For a guide to the best of
modern UK painters (1960-2000),
see Contemporary British Painting.

World's Top-Selling Contemporary Artists

According to the 2008 annual Artprice survey of the global art market, a report which lists the 500 top-selling contemporary artists, based on results from 2,900 auctions between July 2007 and June 2008, artists from Asia - particularly China - are beginning to dominate. For instance, out of the the world's top 20 best-selling postmodernist artists, 13 are Asian, of whom 11 are Chinese. Among the world's most highly sought-after artists are Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun. Some experts in avant-garde art see this as a clear indication that within 10 years Asian art will account for a majority of auction sales around the globe. See also Art News Headlines.

Relationship Series No. 2 (2003)
By Yue Minjun.
See: How to Appreciate Paintings.

See: Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings.
Also: Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings.

What is Contemporary Art? Who is a Contemporary Artist?

There is no single definition or meaning for the term "contemporary art".
In general, art historians and museums use it to describe artworks produced since World War II (c.1945), in contradistinction to "modern art" which usually refers to works produced during the period 1860 to the mid-1960s. (According to this approach, art produced during the period 1945-1965 may be described as either modern or contemporary.)

But the term "contemporary art" is also popularly used to describe works produced during the present era - meaning, art produced since the late 1960s or early 1970s: a period which would include at least part of the 60s Pop-Art movement.

Note: The term "postmodernist art" is a rather vague term, which is typically used to describe avant-garde art produced since the 1970s. For a selected list of the top postmodernist art exhibitions, biennials and fairs, please see: Best Contemporary Art Festivals. For a selection of the finest museums, see: Best Galleries of Contemporary Art.

Zhang Xiaogang in his studio on the
outskirts of Beijing. The pictures
are based on formal photos from
the Cultural Revolution era.

For the Love of God (2007).
By Damien Hirst.
How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

See: History of Art Timeline.

The Top 10

Out of the top 10 money-making artists the first four are Western: Jeff Koons (b.1955), the celebrated American self-taught sculptor and mixed-media neo-pop artist; Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), the Afro-Caribbean-American painter and ex-graffiti artist; Damien Hirst (b.1965), the British sculptor, mixed media artist noted for his dead shark (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living) and diamond encrusted skull (For the Love of God); Richard Prince (b.1949), the American painter and photographer. But the rest of the Top 10 are Asian.

The Top 20

From number 11 to number 20, the list includes seven Chinese painters and other artists, with only the English based Indian-born abstract sculptor Anish Kapoor (b.1954) at number 18, the Scottish painter Peter Doig (b.1959) at number 19, and the Italian-born German artist Rudolf Stingel (b.1956) at number 20, preventing a clean sweep.

Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988)
By Jeff Koons.
Versions of this work appear in
various museums including the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

For biographies of contemporary
painters and sculptors in Ireland
see: Contemporary Irish Artists.

For a list of modern works, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.
Oils, watercolours, acrylics.
Greatest Sculptures Ever
Top 3-D art in marble, stone, wood.

For a guide, see:
Definition of Art.

The World's Top Selling Contemporary Artists (Pre-Recession)

Here is the list of the top 20 most popular artists based on auction records compiled by Artprice.

1. Jeff Koons (b.1955)

Type of art: sculpture, mixed-media
Nationality: American
Sales at auction (07-08): £69.4 million

2. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88)

Type of art: Painting (graffiti art)
Nationality: American
Sales at auction (07-08): £54.3 million

3. Damien Hirst (b.1965)

Type of art: Sculpture, mixed-media, installation art, winner of Turner Prize.
Leader of Young British Artists, heavily promoted by Charles Saatchi.
Nationality: British
Sales at auction (07-08): £45.8 million.
Note: The survey excludes Hirst's Sept 2008 auction of £100 million.

4. Richard Prince (b.1949)

Type of art: painting, fine art photography
Nationality: American
Sales at auction (07-08): £33 million
See also: Greatest Art Photographers (c.1880-present).

5. Zhang Xiaogang (b.1958)

Type of art: Surrealism works, portraiture
Nationality: Chinese (Yunnan)
Sales at auction (07-08): £32.3 million
[Note: Xiaogang was a key exhibitor at the important exhibition of new Chinese art at the Saatchi Gallery, in 2008]

6. Zeng Fanzhi (b.1964)

Type of art: Figure painting, portraits
Nationality: Chinese (Wuhan)
Sales at auction (07-08): £27.8 million

7. Yue Minjun (b.1962)

Type of art: Expressionist figurative paintings
Nationality: Chinese (Heilongjiang)
Sales at auction (07-08): £27.5 million

8. Takashi Murakami (b.1962)

Type of art: Sculpture, painting, installation
Nationality: Japanese
Sales at auction (07-08): £15.5 million

9. Wang Guangyi (b.1957)

Type of art: Mixed-media, painting
Nationality: Chinese (Heilongjiang)
Sales at auction (07-08): £11.7 million

10. Liu Xiaodong (b.1963)

Type of art: Painting, fine art photography
Nationality: Chinese (Liaoning)
Sales at auction (07-08): £10.5 million

11. Cai Guo-Qiang (b.1957)

Type of artwork: Performance art (explosive events)
Nationality: Chinese
Sales at auction (07-08): £10.1 million

12. Yan Pei-Ming (b.1960)

Type of art: Portraitist
Nationality: Chinese (Shanghai)
Sales at auction (07-08): £9.9 million

13. Chen Yifei (b.1946)

Type of art: Painting
Nationality: Chinese (Zhejing)
Sales at auction (07-08): £9.7 million

14. Fang Lijun (b.1963)

Type of art: Painting
Nationality: Chinese (Hebei)
Sales at auction (07-08): £9.6 million

15. Liu Ye (b.1964)

Type of art: Avant-garde artist
Nationality: Chinese
Sales at auction (07-08): £8.8 million

17. Zhou Chunya (b.1955)

Type of art: Portrait paintings
Nationality: Chinese (Sichuan)
Sales at auction (07-08): £8.3 million

18. Anish Kapoor (b.1954)

Type of art: Abstract art, sculpture, one of Turner Prize Winners.
Nationality: British (born in India)
Sales at auction (07-08): £6.7 million

19. Peter Doig (b.1959)

Type of art: Contemporary landscape pictures
Nationality: British
Sales at auction (07-08): £6.7 million

20. Rudolf Stingel (b.1956)

Type of art: Installation and conceptual art
Nationality: German
Sales at auction (07-08): £6.5 million

Source: Auction records (July 2007-July 2008), as compiled by Artprice.

• For a contemporary painter who mostly operates outside the art world, see: Banksy (b.1973-4), the graffiti stencil artist.
• For a postmodernist figure painter noted for her (instantly recognizable) obese female nudes, see: Jenny Saville (b.1970), another of Charles Saatchi's protegees.
• For a postmodernist Bulgarian-French duo who raise millions of dollars to support their unique empaquetage (wrapping) art, see: Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

For a quick reference guide to modern artists, see: 20th Century Painters.


Important Auctions of Contemporary Art

Both the two main international fine art auctioneers, Sotheby's and Christie's, hold regular auctions of post-war modern and contemporary artworks. Recently, the British contemporary sculptor and installation artist Damien Hirst broke the salesoom record for a single artist with his £111 million auction at Sotheby's (Set 2008).

Contemporary Art Movements

Since 1980, the world has witnessed a host of difficult-to-define types of art, encompassing new contemporary art movements, such as Minimalism, Photorealism, and Land Art, as well as postmodernist styles such as Post-Minimalism, international Neo-expressionism, Britart, and as well as new types of art, such as video art and graffiti, as well as computer art in new media like videogames).

If the Italian Renaissance was an era of relative conformity, today's modern art scene can only be characterized by the phrase "anything goes". Art has suddenly become much more accessible, but in its search for relevancy, it seems to be downplaying its earlier focus on acquired skills, in favour of novelty and populist appeal - a process stimulated no doubt by the increasingly powerful role played by modern communication systems like TV, video and the Internet.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of facts from the Sunday Independent, 16 November 2008, on the growing popularity of Asian artists.

• For more contemporary painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For details of contemporary sculpture, see: Twentieth Century Sculptors.

Art Movements
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