The hot-young-artists league table

January 20, 2012

Many thanks to Amy King at Artnet, who put this league table together for me, showing the artists who have grossed the most money at auction before their 30th birthday. (Technically, it’s total auction revenue up to and including the full year in which they turn 30.)

Name Nationality Birth year Auction revenue by 30th birthday
Jean-Michel Basquiat American 1960 $16,623,449
Gao Yu Chinese 1981 $2,333,052
Choi So Young Korean 1980 $2,103,046
Jacob Kassay American 1984 $1,777,942
Hernan Bas American 1978 $1,698,134
Ayako Rokkaku Japanese 1982 $1,206,408
Han Yajuan Chinese 1980 $962,410
Dan Colen American 1979 $864,271
Ilkka Lammi Finnish 1976 $662,156
Chen Ke Chinese 1978 $556,561

In first place, and vastly ahead of anybody else, is Jean-Michel Basquiat, who of course died in 1988 at the age of 27. The overwhelming majority of his $16.6 million was posthumous: $15.3 million came in 1989 and 1990. And dying young is not a career strategy I’d necessarily recommend to any artist.

Basquiat aside, there’s an impressively Asian tinge to this list, with 5 of the other 9 artists coming from China, Korea, or Japan. Notably, the appositely-named Choi So Young saw more than $2 million of her work sold at auction before she was 30 — an achievement which, historically, neither female artists nor Korean artists would ever dream of.

This does not mean that Asian artists have more success at a younger age than their US and European counterparts; it probably just means that hot young US and European artists have galleries which are better at keeping close tabs on their work and preventing it from coming up for auction. But still, it’s a glimpse at just how incredibly successful young artists can be, these days.


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