Sunday, October 28, 2012

Top auction earners

Hong Kong recently held a five-day auction series selling millions of dollars of art and luxury goods. More sales will follow late next month bringing an end to the autumn auctions.

Demand for Chinese art has boomed in recent years as the country's super-rich rediscover China's heritage. We decided to take a look at the top earners and  trends of auction sales over the last few years. Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso were unseated in 2011 as the top-selling artists by Chinese painters Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi, whose work has skyrocketed in value.

This was a back page graphic we created showing the top 5 earners last year and how they've performed since 1997.

For our research we turned to a reliable source, An online company which compiles and updates art reference databases that cover art auction prices and artist biographies as well as artwork images from its library of 290,000 auction catalogs.

After compiling the data and trying different methods of presenting it. We realised it was also important to show the number of pieces sold as well as the overall turnover for the artists. This shows that the Chinese artists actually sell less than Warhol and Picasso but make a lot more money.

I decided to use a connected scatter plot method. Putting the annual number of pieces sold on the horizontal axis and annual turnover on the vertical axis. Then connect the dots, one for each year, to create a line for each painter.

The small key at the top explaining the graphic

The red lines of the Chinese painters come from a very small amount, close to zero on both axes, and move slightly up in terms of value and numbers sold over the following 10 years. Still behind Warhol and way behind Picasso. Then shoot up past both of them. This shows an interesting trend for all three Chinese painters as the pattern is moving strongly in one very straight direction. Whereas Warhol and Picasso's line is usually in the high earning area but very erratic. 

Not a common type of chart for us to use at the SCMP, but seemed the best way to show the data this time. 

The small pie charts also show China's growth as a market. Now accounting for almost half of all sales.

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