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The Canvas of Wealth: World’s Most Valuable Living Artists

In celebration of Art Basel Miami and Miami Art Week, Miami Living brings you seven visionary artists who have contributed to the ever-evolving world of contemporary art, pushing the boundaries of creativity and artistic value.

Photo by Christie's

“I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art,” remarks renowned painter and sculptor Yayoi Kusama, one of the luminaries featured on Miami Living’s esteemed artist list. This serves as a reminder that in today’s chaotic world, creativity and artistic expression can be powerful healing tools.

David Hockney

David Hockney, a renowned British artist, has made significant contributions to contemporary art over the years. In 1972, he created “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” a masterpiece that would later become a record-breaking artwork.

In 2018, David Hockney’s iconic “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” achieved the status of the most expensive painting by a living artist. This masterpiece was sold for a staggering $90.3 million after an intense bidding battle.

David Hockney is known for his versatility, having explored various art forms, including painting, photography, and digital art, throughout his career.

“What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.” – David Hockney

© David Hockney, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures.” Image courtesy of Christie’s

Sacha Jafri

Sacha Jafri, a British artist, achieved international acclaim for his extraordinary creation, “Journey of Humanity,” which is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest painting on canvas. This monumental masterpiece was meticulously crafted over a period of seven months in 2020, a time marked by the global upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was completed in Dubai.

Sacha Jafri created ‘The Journey of Humanity,’ which is the largest canvas in the world, consisting of 70 panels measuring over 17,000 square feet, equivalent to four NBA basketball courts. In 2021, this remarkable artwork was sold for an astonishing $62 million, establishing itself as the third-highest price ever paid for a piece of art by a living artist. It remains the largest canvas in the world known to date.”

Sacha Jafri’s artistic career is marked by a commitment to philanthropy and a departure from the traditional art gallery system. He is renowned for generously donating many of his works and the proceeds from their sale to various charitable endeavors. His distinguished list of collectors includes prominent figures such as Barack Obama, members of the British royal family, Sir Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Gates, Madonna, David Beckham, George Clooney, and Eva Longoria.

The Journey of Humanity by Sacha Jafri. Image courtesy of Humanity Inspired

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns, born on May 15, 1930, is a multifaceted American artist renowned for his contributions to abstract expressionism, Neo-Dada, and pop art. He is most celebrated for his iconic representations of the American flag, alongside other everyday objects and symbols, including targets, maps, letters, and numbers. Over the course of his career, his creations have repeatedly fetched record-breaking prices for living artists.

Johns has been the recipient of numerous prestigious accolades, notably the National Medal of Arts in 1990 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. In recognition of his artistic prowess, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1973 and the American Philosophical Society in 2007. In a testament to his enduring influence, The New York Times hailed him as the preeminent living artist in the United States in 2018.

Johns had created over 40 iterations of his iconic American flag artwork. Notably, a specific rendition dating back to 1958 became part of the collection of Steven A. Cohen, an American hedge fund manager. In 2010, Cohen purchased the rendition for approximately $110 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold by a living artist.

Jasper Johns is one of the co-founders of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. He presently resides and creates his art in Connecticut. “Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.”

Jasper Johns is known for his reclusive lifestyle and rarely makes public appearances, letting his art speak for itself.

Jasper Johns, Painting With Two Balls, 1960. © Jasper Johns/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York City.

Jeff Koons

Renowned American artist Jeff Koons is famed for crafting artworks that consistently elicit both polarizing opinions and controversy. Celebrated for his creative work, Koons adeptly integrates elements of popular culture into his sculptures, reimagining everyday objects. Notably, he expertly fashions balloon animals from stainless steel, rendering them with mirror-like surfaces. He continues to split his time between New York City and his hometown.

Koons’ creations have commanded substantial prices at auctions, with two notable records for a living artist: his piece “Balloon Dog (Orange)” fetched an impressive $58.4 million in 2013, while “Rabbit” achieved an even higher sum of $91.1 million in 2019.

Critics’ opinions on Koons’ work vary widely. Some herald it as groundbreaking and a significant contribution to art history, while others dismiss it as kitsch, vulgar, and driven by commercial motives. Koons himself has asserted that his artworks lack concealed meanings or critiques.

“I’ve always enjoyed feeling a connection to the avant-garde, such as Dada and Surrealism and Pop Art.”

– Jeff Koons

© Jeff Koons, Balloon Venus, Image courtesy of Pace Gallery

Yayoi Kusama

Kusama Yayoi, born on March 22, 1929, is a prominent Japanese contemporary artist known for her diverse artistic pursuits. While her primary focus is on sculpture and installation, she also actively engages in painting, performance, video art, fashion, poetry, fiction, and various other forms of artistic expression. Her body of work is rooted in conceptual art and exhibits elements of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism. It is characterized by its autobiographical, psychological, and sexual themes.

Kusama Yayoi is widely recognized as one of the most significant contemporary artists to emerge from Japan. She holds the distinction of being the world’s top-selling female artist and is hailed as the most successful living artist globally. Her artistic contributions have left a lasting impact on her contemporaries, influencing the likes of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.

The “Kusama Pumpkin” or “LPASG” (Large Pumpkin, All the Small Pumpkins Gathered) is one of Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic and recognizable artworks. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on December 1, 2021, for $8 million. The 94-year-old artist made another landmark accomplishment, with five of her artworks selling for a total of $22.9 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong earlier this year.

Kusama Pumpkin/LPASG, Image courtesy of Phillips Auctioneers, LLC

Jenny Saville

Jennifer (Jenny) Anne Saville is a contemporary British painter known for her large-scale depictions of nude women with an innovative approach to painting the female nude and reinvigorating figure painting. Her work draws inspiration from pathology textbooks, focusing on injuries, bruises, burns, and deformities. She collaborates with models who have undergone cosmetic surgery to explore the concept of reclaiming the body from personality and capturing the “marks of personality for the flesh.” John Gray describes her work as an exploration of how individuals can shape their own lives through their bodies.

In November 2018, the American Jenny Saville made both art world and feminist history when she became the most valuable living female artist in the world. “Propped,” oil on canvas, painted in 1992, was sold by Sotheby’s in London for $12.4 million. The painting, a self-portrait that challenges the stereotypes of female beauty.

“Human perception of the body is so acute and knowledgeable that the smallest hint of a body can trigger recognition,” – Jenny Saville.

Jenny Saville’s self-portrait “Propped” challenges beauty stereotypes and sold for $12.4 million in 2018.

Mike Winkelmann (Beeple)

In May 2007, the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, set out to create and post a new work of art online every day. Beeple achieved this feat, creating a new digital picture each day for 5,000 days straight. Individually known as “Everydays,” collectively, the pieces form the core of “Everydays: the First 5000 Days,” one of the most unique bodies of work to emerge in the history of digital art.

On March 11, 2021, Beeple’s “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” made history by selling for $69.3 million at Christie’s. This sale set multiple records, including being the most expensive digital artwork ever sold, the third-highest price paid for a work by a living artist, the highest price for any lot in any online-only auction, the highest price for any winning bid placed online, and the highest total for any online-only auction. Beeple’s works highlight the growing significance of digital art in the global art market.

“Everydays: the First 5000 Days”, by Beeple - Image courtesy of Christie’s

One of the 5,000 images featured in “Everydays: the First 5000 Days”. Image courtesy of Christie’s

To view works by some of these renowned artists during Art Basel Miami this year, please visit our special Art Basel section for the latest news and updates.


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