Global art sales set a fresh record in 2014 driven by acquisitions from new museums, while China maintained its place at the top of the market, data firm Artprice said Thursday.
Works worth $15.2 billion (13.5 billion euros) sold at auction during the year, an increase of 26 percent on 2013, Artprice said in its annual report, produced with China's Artron.
A record number of 1,679 sales worth $1 million or more were recorded over the year, four times more than a decade ago, it added.
Thierry Ehrmann, founder and CEO of Artprice, described the figures as "an amazing result, an increase of 300 percent in a decade".
He added that the boom was not being driven by speculators, with 37 percent of lots going unsold in the West and 54 percent in China.
2014 also saw 125 artworks sell for $10 million or more, not including commission, against 18 in 2005.
Greater China, grouping the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, maintained its market leader status, accounting for $5.6 billion in sales, closely followed by the United States.
However, in a sign that a slow-down in Beijing's economy and an anti-corruption drive that has curtailed luxury spending may have taken their toll, sales in China were down five percent compared to 2013.
- One museum a day -
2014 was an exceptionally strong year in the United States, with $4.8 billion being spent at US auctions, an increase of 21 percent from the previous year.
British auction houses also put in a solid performance to secure third place with $2.8 billion in sales, up 35 percent from 2013.
"Demand is constant and aggressive on every continent... notably from museums," said Ehrmann.
"More museums were created between 2000 and 2015 than during the entire 19th and 20th centuries," added Wang Jie, president of Artprice.com and Artron group.
The phenomenal expansion saw a new museum opening every day somewhere in the world, led by growth in Asia, he said.
"A museum needs a minimum of 3,000 to 4,000 quality works to be credible... (and) is not meant to get rid of its acquisitions," he added.
And even though top valued lots represented only a small proportion of the total market, they were key to the United States and Britain maintaining their top positions.
Eighty-three of the 125 sales worth $10 million or more were conducted in the United States. These sales represent only one percent of lots but 75 percent of US sales volume.
One of the most spectacular auction results of the year saw Black Fire 1, a 1961 work by American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman, sell for $84 million in New York in May.
It had a pre-sale estimate of $39 million.
Artprice also said that the upper threshold for works could soon scale new heights. The $100 million ceiling for a single work was first breached in the 2000s. This month, a work by Gauguin sold privately for $300 million, according to the New York Times.
The $1-billion-mark could soon be reached, said Artprice.
"Twenty years ago, America and Europe accounted for more than 95 percent" of sales, said Ehrmann, whereas today, buyers are active "on all continents without exception".
Art, he said, "has become an investment category in its own right, reliable, stable over time and much less prone to turbulence that the stock market."