Billionaires Chasing Warhols Fuel $16 Billion Art Sales

“Billionaires Chasing Warhols Fuel $16 Billion Art Sales”

by Mary Romano via “Bloombergs

Andy Warhol was the top-selling artist at auction in the past year as increased competition for the most-expensive segment of the market drove global art sales higher.

Collectors bought 1,295 works by the deceased artist totaling $653.2 million, ahead of sales for Pablo Picasso andFrancis Bacon, according to preliminary figures by New York-based researcherArtnet. Auctions worldwide rose 10 percent to $16 billion.

Art sales have more than doubled from $6.3 billion in 2009, as surging financial markets lifted the fortunes of the world’s richest. The top 400 billionaires added $92 billion in wealth this year, for a net worth of $4.1 trillion as of Dec. 29, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Bidding for the most coveted artists has been driving much of the surge in auctions, said Jeff Rabin, a principal at advisory firm Artvest Partners in New York.

“The headline number is not so much a comment on the art market as it is on global wealth,” Rabin said. “We haven’t seen a considerable increase in the number of objects sold. We have seen price appreciation at the top end.”

A record $2.3 billion of art was auctioned over two weeks in New York in November. As part of those auctions, Christie’s on Nov. 12 sold 75 contemporary works for $852.9 million, a record for an evening auction.

“That total in one evening sale for less than 100 works is extraordinary,” Rabin said.

No Women

At $16 billion, this year’s art sales would be the second-highest on record. The Artnet numbers for 2014 are preliminary, and final figures next week could still surpass the previous record of $16.3 billion, set in 2011. The figures take into account sales of paintings, drawings and sculpture but not other collectibles such as furniture or decorative objects. The numbers also don’t include private sales.

No women were among the top 10 artists in 2014, and only one, Gerhard Richter, 82, is still living.

Warhol, who died in 1987, had two of the most expensive works at auction in 2014. “Triple Elvis,” a 1963 silkscreen of Elvis Presley in a publicity image for the movie “Flaming Star” in which the singer is shown as a cowboy with a gun, sold for $81.9 million.

“Four Marlons,” a 1966 canvas depicting four identical images of a young Marlon Brando wearing a leather jacket and a cap in a still from the movie “The Wild One,” fetched $69.6 million. Both works were sold in November at Christie’s in New York.

Chinese Artists

Picasso was the second-biggest selling artist, with 2,820 of his works fetching $448.7 million. Although he didn’t have an individual work among the top sellers, collectors sought out the artist because he had “an incredible body of work and multiple periods of exceptional work,” Rabin said.

Bacon, Richter and Mark Rothko rounded out the top five artists. Two Chinese artists, Qi Baishi, known for painting shrimp, fish and frogs, and Zhang Daqian, who was famous for his landscapes, ranked sixth and ninth, respectively. Claude Monet was seventh, with $252.1 million of his works sold. Jean-Michel Basquiat was 10th, at $172.2 million. . . .


NJ Rhino Horn Smuggling Case ~ Outcome

I know I’m a little late to the table on the whole “Ivory-banning” topic, but a case was just settled on the issue, so I thought it was an interesting share.   Message To Leave With–Ivory of all kind is pretty much forboten in the States right now. So don’t try smuggling in or out anything made of Rhino or Elephant ivory; you risk a hefty fine and/or prison time.  

A little (Super-Simplified) background on the laws themselves:

Endangered Species Act (1973)–>More or less stated that protecting our “natural heritage” (as opposed to  artifacts/art/man-made heritage) was an important duty for Americans. It went on to begin outlining basic legal protections for the “native plants and animals” that were considered endangered or on the verge of extinction.  Out of this came the:

African Elephant Conservation Act (1989)–> This act acknowledged that African elephants (and because they are “indistinguishable,” Asian Elephants) were on the verge of extinction (note the link here they made to previous law). Furthermore, the “illegal trade” was a large part of the problem, and the US had a responsibility to put a stop to such trade on its own shores.  Take note: sport hunting was left out in this act as being OK. Thus, you just needed to prove that your ivory/Elephant parts came from sport hunting instead of poaching, and you were all good.  Closely linked to and resembling this act was the soon to follow:

Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act (1994)–> As with the Elephant Act, the Rhino & Tiger Act started by stating that the Rhinos and Tigers were (under the Endangered Species Act definitions) considered to be endangered.  And once again, the “illegal trade” was most of the problem, and the US had a responsibility here to stop such trade.  Exact wording:  “A person shall not sell, import, or export, or attempt to sell, import, or export, any product, item, or substance intended for human consumption or application containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, any substance derived from any species of rhinoceros or tiger.”  

 This one went a little further in that the US had signed a contract with a bunch of other countries that it would actually destroy any stockpiles of Rhino horns that it found. Personally, I think this was a massive waste of ivory that didn’t benefit the Rhinos and only boosted the black market for their horns (where there is less of an item, more and more people want it).  Whatever you believe, this was a huge situation between US and Chinese/Taiwanese wildlife exporters.  The US actually put into place a ban on Taiwanese exports of wildlife into the US in 1994 because Taiwan had not changed their rules enough to suit the US government.  Nonetheless, there was still a  loophole for sport hunting or “legally taken trophies” here.  This meant that all the little “buddhas” or trinkets made out of ivory, or even the old pianos that had real ivory keys, were still okay for transport if you could show that they weren’t poached ivory.

Everything moved along, with minor disputes arising as to what was ivory, how bad the penalties should be etc. Then the next major change actually showed up this year (2014).  

February 11, 2014, the Department of Interior announced that it was going to officially ban ALL Commercial trade of Ivory in an effort to stop poaching.  This meant that it was taking away the little “Sport hunting”/”Legal Trophy” loophole that was left by previous laws.  It would impact all ivory taken from African Elephants and Rhinos.   Their argument was that the ivory trade was increasing; I would argue that this was a direct result of the rising demand for a suddenly “rare” commodity such as the governments had created with their previous bans.  

PROBLEM: suddenly, picking up little buddha or ivory trinket during your layover in India wasn’t quite so safe as it had been.  It was now going to be illegal to trade in pretty much any type of Ivory. The only exceptions were a “narrow class of antiques” already protected under the original Endangered Species Act (see how the lawyers intertwined these laws!) and those ivory pieces you already owned. Basically, you had to prove that you were exempt and this requirement was getting fairly strict (it had to be imported into the US before 1990 for African Elephant Ivory and 1975 for Asian Elephants).

This has potentially serious impacts on a ton of cultural resources, which is why you are probably still seeing quite a few articles discussing the situation.


Now, with that extensive background, I bring you the recently decided NJ Rhino Horn Smuggling Case.

In December 2013, Zhifei Li, a Chinese citizen and owner of “Overseas Treasure Finding, pled guilty to smuggling rhinoceros horns from the United States into China.  He apparently paid three different antiquities dealers to assist him in exporting around thirty rhino horns and “objects” made from rhino and elephant horns.  Altogether, the items were worth approximately $4.5 million.  He has just been sentenced to six years in prison and a $3.5 million fine.

Mr. Li was officially tried under the older, pre-2014 amended laws.  But now with the changes, those laws could apply to you to.  So, as I said at the beginning, don’t try bringing in or out anything made of Rhino or Elephant ivory; it’s not worth the battle.