Munch Beaten by Keran Li on China Demand, Artprice Says

'Shanshui: Landscape with stream'
"Shanshui: Landscape with stream," a watercolor by the 20th century Chinese painter Keran Li. $40.3 million was paid for another of Li's paintings called "Mountains in Red." Source: Galerie Sepia, Paris via Bloomberg

Works by Edvard Munch, the most valuable artist at auction, have increased in value at a slower pace over the past decade than those by China’s Keran Li, according to research company Artprice.

While Munch’s “The Scream” became the world’s most expensive artwork at auction when it raised $119.9 million with fees at Sotheby’s in May, the Norwegian artist’s price index has risen less since 2001 than Li, the French-based company’s data says. The pastel work, one of the most copied images in art, goes on show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York today.

Li’s market charge is led by the $40.3 million paid for “Mountains in Red” at Poly International, Beijing, in March. The figures reflect the global art market which, including auction and dealer sales, was worth 46.1 billion euros ($60 billion) in 2011, according to a report published by the Netherlands-based European Fine Art Foundation (Tefaf) in March.

“Li is one of China’s top four traditional ink painters,” the Paris-based dealer Christian Ogier said in an interview. “He meets the aspiration of traditional collectors for something more modern, yet understandable. He lived in Beijing, and retains a loyal following in the northern part of the country, where a number of collectors live.”

Artprice’s figures were produced before this month’s tests of the art market, with about $500 million of works on sale in Hong Kong and more than $2 billion at fairs, auctions and gallery shows in London and Paris.

Its index, starting at 100 in 2001, rose to 812 for Munch, a figure partly distorted by the one-time sale of one of the most famous images in the world, dealers said.

Chinese Demand

Li is one of a group of Chinese 20th-century artists working in an idiom that fetches high prices in China’s domestic auctions. While only five of his works sold outside Asia in 2011, domestic demand makes him more consistently valuable -- only 13 percent of his lots failed to sell in that year -- and he rose to 947 on the Artprice index last month.

In 2001, as the Hong Kong Museum of Art organized “Magnificent Vision,” a retrospective show of Li’s work 12 years after his death, he was only at 345 in Artprice’s top 100.

Artprice also listed the 10 most valuable paintings and works of art at auction in the first half of 2012. The Munch led the list, selling for $107,000 million at hammer price before fees. One of four versions of the image, it was bought by Leon Black, chairman and founder of Apollo Global Management LLC, the Wall Street Journal earlier reported on its website.

Otherwise, postwar works were the billionaires’ choice in the first half of 2012. Seven out of 10 were paintings from the 1960s.

Rothko, Bacon

“The Scream” was followed by Mark Rothko’s 1961 “Orange, Red, Yellow” for a $77.5 million hammer price at Christie’s International New York, also in May; Li’s “Mountains in Red” and works by Bacon, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Miro and Klein.

Artprice didn’t have enough works at auction to include Rothko in its index. No work by Pablo Picasso, ranked by as the world’s most expensive artist in 2010, featured in the list. His index on Artprice is at 212 in 2012.

Sales of contemporary art in the world’s 10 biggest auction centers raised about $1.2 billion in 2011, still down from the levels of 2008, said.

Since that decline in the market, auction catalogs of contemporary art in the U.S. and Europe have become more weighted with 20th-century classics, rather than works by younger living artists.

New York was the biggest center for auctions of contemporary art in 2011 with sales of $307.4 million. London, which holds three series of auctions per year, raised $264.1 million, an advance of 67 percent on 2010.

London Residents

The U.K. capital’s population of wealthy foreign residents is attracting sellers of high-value lots.

Last year, China overtook the U.S. for the first time to become the biggest art and antiques market worldwide with 9.8 billion euros of auction sales, according to the Tefaf report.

This is reflected in the Artprice figures, with Beijing selling $265.7 million, Hong Kong $213.4 million and Shanghai $39 million last year -- giving Asia a higher sales total than any other continent.

Artprice Price Index Since 2001
Keran Li 947
Edvard Munch 812
Yves Klein 409
Roy Lichenstein 385
Andy Warhol 299
Pablo Picasso 212
Joan Miro 193
Francis Bacon 127

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