Trend in sight

Ai Weiwei, costly artist-activist

Art Market | Influential art world figure Ai Weiwei has maintained an ecosystem built around both his artist and media alter-ego identities for years. A study of his works put up for auction between 2006 and 2016 reveals his market value is intimately linked to the current events surrounding the work.

Ai Weiwei © Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio
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Ai Weiwei
© Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Over these 10 years of auctions, two observations can be made :
- In total, the works of Ai Weiwei generate $40,646,625, 3% less than the of high estimate sum of $41,917,715.
- Of 218 lots, 83 surpass expectations (38%) while 45 go unsold.
Ai Weiwei’s “second market” career can be divided into 3 major periods.

2006 – 2011, the market opens up

Only 61 lots are put on auction in this 6-year interval, with a minimum in 2006 (5 lots) and a maximum in 2008 (19 lots). A majority of sales surpass high estimates (36 lots, 60%) while only 10 lots go unsold (16%). In 2006, Ai Weiwei sales total $475,373 (26% more than the high estimate total of $378,294), $1,055,114 in 2007 (+2%, $1,033,110), $1,566,047 in 2008 (+8%, $1,448,994), $599,682 in 2009 (+2.6%, $584,412), $1,180,750 in 2010 (+34%, $880,851) and $1,678,761 in 2011 (+57%, $1,071,933). The highest auction price is for “Chandelier (ed. 2) ” sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2007 for $657,000.

2012 – 2013, trend reversal

The following period is characterized by a sharp fall in public sale prices of Ai Weiwei works. In 2012, only 4 of 17 sales surpass their high estimates (24%) while 3 go unsold (17%). The same year, 14 lots of the artist’s work are sold for a total of $2,552,901 (estimates of $2,036,869 and $2,819,159).
The year 2013 is particularly bad for Ai Weiwei’s figures. Apart from “Bubble of ten (in 10 parts) ” and “Marble Door,” all works estimated at values above $150,000 go unsold; 18 lots for a total of $1,467,267, 47% less than the high/low estimates of $1,943,966 and $2,657,810.

2014 – 2016, auction prices explode

This period differs from the two previous ones :
- high number of lots put up for auction (50 in 2014, 45 in 2015),
- low rate of sales surpassing high estimates (26% in 2014, 29% in 2015),
- high rate of unsold works (28% in 2014, 22% in 2015),
- sharp rise in total annual sales value ($5,961,232 in 2014, $18,056,625 in 2015). The first million-dollar bid is in 2014 with “Map of China,” sold for $1,165,489 by Sotheby’s Hong Kong.
- In 2015, the artist sells three lots for over a million, including “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” edition 7/8 and edition 1/6, sold respectively for $4,434,615 and $5,427,242 by Phillips London. The two million-dollar bids between January and June 2016 concern “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (ed 3/8) sold for $1,092,777 (estimated value $217,108 - $289,477) by Sotheby’s London and “Map of China” (in 3 elements) sold for $2,517,000 by Christie’s New York ($800,000 - $1,200,000).

Between January 2006 and June 2016, 18 works sell for over $600,000. Half of them are produced by the artist between 2008 and 2011, a period in which Ai Weiwei’s forms of political engagement increase : from his opposition to the Beijing Olympic stadium to his stay in prison to his activism in the Sichuan earthquake to the 2009 shutdown of his blog by Chinese authorities.
On the contrary, while 2012 and 2013 were rich in artistic activity – the Serpentine Gallery exhibition, the release of the film Never Sorry, and the German pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale… - they saw a significant drop in the value of the artist’s works.

In parallel to the second market barometer of worth, and in line with his event-based activities, Ai Weiwei develops spin-off products and multiple editions of emblematic works. There are 4 versions of “Map of China” and “Table with three legs,” and there are 5 versions of “Grapes” and “Watermelon” of different sizes and years of production. Ai Weiwei seizes a strategy used by the Japanese artist Murakami and the English artist Damien Hirst that mirrors the luxury market of the 1980’s in capitalizing on mass consumption of customized products.

Vincent Kozsilovics
Publié le 15/07/2016
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Version française

Ai Weiwei © Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio Ai Weiwei, Map of China vendue pour 1 527 682$ par Sotheby’s Hong Kong © Courtesy the artist Ai Weiwiei, Grapes vendue pour 666 088$ par Phillips, De Pury and Luxemburg London © Courtesy of TES Ai Weiwei, Forever Bicycles vendue pour 730 294$ par Sotheby’s Hong Kong © DR Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases vendue pour 737 968$ par Sotheby’s London © DR Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals, Zodiac Heads (gold) vendue pour 4 434 615$ par Phillips, De Pury & Luxembourg London © Courtesy of Portland Art Museum Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals, Zodiac Heads (bronze) vendue pour 5 427 242$ par Phillips, De Pury and Luxembourg London © DR

Ai Weiwei
© Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

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