Modern Masters: The 5 Top-Selling Contemporary Artists Of 2023

Works from contemporary artists like Yayoi Kusama and David Hockney took the art world by storm in 2023, with sales values of $29.5 million to $80.9 million by the end of the year. 

The second edition of Hiscox Artist Top 100 (HAT) has recently been released. The yearly list is a project of art market analysis firm ArtTactic and international art insurance group Hiscox, and showcases data of annual “key auction trends” for contemporary art made after 2000 (the year that Hiscox established its art collection), including the “rising and falling” artists’ markets last year.

READ ALSO: The Year’s Jewels: 5 Of 2023’s Most Expensive Paintings Sold At Auction

Those interested in delving into the findings can access all the data online, though this particular feature will be highlighting five contemporary artists with the highest sales values last year. Read on to learn more about the modern masters who took over the market last 2023:

Yayoi Kusama

This year, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama took the top spot for artist with the biggest sales value at $80.9 million, replacing David Hockney (who ranked first in 2022’s HAT). She also topped the list of female artists with the highest sales values. 

With her distinct bob cut and polka-dot motifs, Kusama has risen to become one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. Though she’s primarily a sculptor who created the viral Infinity Mirror Rooms that many had seen in their social media feeds, she also creates other forms of art like poetry, fashion, paintings, and film, to name a few. 

Her fascination with polka-dots has a lot to do with the cosmos, as her galaxy-like Infinity Mirror Rooms imply, and human existence on a bigger scale. “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos,” she once said, as Tate writes in a feature on the artist. “Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.” 

According to Tessa Solomon of ARTnews, Kusama’s most expensive piece in 2023 was “A Flower (2014),” which fetched around $10 million (HK$ 78 million) in a Christie’s Hong Kong auction. 

David Hockney

Though David Hockney no longer holds the top spot in the 2024 edition of HAT, his works were still in high demand last year, as the artist holds a sales value of $50.3 million. Many know the English painter for his alluring pool paintings, which captured the zeitgeist of 1960s America (specifically golden California), often from a queer perspective. 

“I went to art school in Bradford [England] when I was sixteen years old. And for four years we really just did life drawing, and that teaches you to look,” he shared in an interview with Françoise Mouly for The New Yorker. “That’s all drawing is. It’s teaching you to look and question things.”

One of his most notable and valuable works include the 1972 work “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” which sold for $90.3 million in a 2018 Christie’s auction. Then in 2019, his 1969 painting “Henry Geldzahler And Christopher Scott” also sold for a jaw-dropping $49.5 million in another Christie’s auction, according to ARTnews

In 2023, Hockney’s works achieved a 100% sell-through rate during Phillips London’s dedicated sale for the artist, with a sales total of nearly $2 million dollars (£1.4 million). Collectors continue to covet Hockney’s works, as his painting “California” (1965) sold for £19 million just this year, which is roughly $23 million. 

Yoshitomo Nara

Another beloved Japanese artist made it to HAT’s list of artists: Yoshitomo Nara, the man behind the recognizable, child-like illustrations, paintings, and sculptures of little girls and animals that have captivated the art world for years. Nara’s works are whimsical and sweet—and not to mention, incredibly valuable. 

His 2000 piece “Knife Behind Back” —which features an angry girl—sold for $25 million (HK$ 195.7 million) in a 2019 Sotheby’s auction, according to Angelica Villa of ARTnews. Then in 2021, another 2000 piece, “Missing in Action” (once again featuring his favorite image of an angry little girl) sold for $15.9 million (HK$ 123.7 million). The list goes on, as even his smaller drawings are highly valuable (including a 2002 print “Night Walker,” which Tokyo-based Gallery Scena had on exhibit during 2023’s Art Fair Philippines). Nara also creates large-scale sculptures of his characters, and charming mixed-media installations of houses like “Berlin Barrack, Room 1” and “Not Everything But/Green House.” 

On the influences behind his adorable pieces, Nara told Hideo Furukawa of Asymptote: “I remember a lot of the picture books and music records I devoured in my youth. […] With picture books, on the other hand, you’d work your imagination a lot more starting from a picture, and little words would suddenly come along with it. The more you look into the picture the more you think and the more your imaginary world expands.”

Cecily Brown

English painter Cecily Brown is the second woman in HAT’s list, with a total sales value of $31.7 million. She’s also the second top-selling figure among the list of contemporary female artists. Brown has quickly climbed up the rankings, as she hadn’t been in 2022’s top five (though she was third in the year’s female artists list). 

Brown made her mark in the art world through her dynamic brushstrokes, with works that seem to be in constant motion, “alive with the erotic energy of her expressive application and vivid color,” as the Gagosian writes in her official artist profile. Some have compared her works to that of artists like Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Edgar Degas, though she’s created her own inimitable, fluid style. “The nice thing about getting older as an artist is that you have your own work to draw on. I’m someone who always draws on other people’s work, so now I can steal from myself as much as I have from other artists,” she shared with Rachel Wetzler in an interview for Apollo

The artist’s works have captivated the art market and sell for millions. In 2020, Gagosian sold her painting “Figures in a Landscape 1″ (2001) for $5.5 million, according to Justin Kap of Artsy. Her recent retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Death and the Maiden) further increased the demand for her work. Artprice adds that eight of her paintings fetched seven-digit results between January and July 2023. 

George Condo

In HAT’s fifth spot is George Condo, whose total sales value is around $29.5 million. Like Brown, Condo is a newcomer in the list, with an oeuvre of works that are making waves in the art market. The American artist works in a variety of mediums, from printmaking to sculpture, yet many know him best for his expressive paintings. 

George Condo
George Condo/Photo by Sophie Caby via Wikimedia Commons

Through his works, Condo blends techniques of the Old Masters with those of modern artists, with concepts tha explore aspects of his country’s culture, as Artnet writes on his official profile. Condo also worked as a printer under Andy Warhol, and was good friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, according to Jacqui Palumbo of CNN Style

Condo's "Force Field" (1957)
Condo’s “Force Field” (1957)/Photo from the Christie’s website

The artist took up music theory in his university years, and played in the punk band “The Girls,” which is why music has become an inseparable part of his creative process. “(My figures) speak to our generation, they speak to the idea of multiple channels of communication, multiple personalities, multiple emotions, multiple (ways to) access information, all at the same time,” he explained in his interview with Palumbo. 

Condo’s works sell for millions on average, with his 1957 piece “Force Field” setting the artist’s auction record at around $6.8 million (HK$ 53 million) in 2020. Other pieces like “Reclining Blue Form” and “Multicolored Female Composition” sold for around $3.8 million and $3.7 million (£3 million), respectively, in Sotheby’s auctions. 

Banner photo by Yusuke Miyazaki via Instagram @yayoikusamamuseum.

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