Art ‘Flipping’ Spreads as Speculation Rises

Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq, Unsplash

An art market report has noted a sharp rise in ‘flipping’ of contemporary works as sales of ‘wet paint’ works (auctioned within two years of production) increased by 166 percent in 2022.

According to figures from specialist insurer Hiscox, the market for contemporary artwork has become increasingly speculative, with analysis of auction data showing the number of works being re-sold at auction within two years of being made, more than doubling. In 2022 1,033 ‘wet paint’ lots were sold in auction at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, up from 478 offered in 2021 – a 116% increase. This suggests that more art is being bought with an eye on making a short-term return – or, to put it bluntly, that buyers are ‘flipping’ wet paint pieces for a quick return on investment.

Robert Read, Head of Art and Private Clients, Hiscox commented: “At Hiscox we have almost exclusively been collecting contemporary art since 2000 and it is clear that we are doing so in an increasingly speculative bubble – a bubble that we love being in and which fascinates and torments us in equal measure.  This analysis attempts to delve into this part of the art market – looking only at artworks produced after 2000 to try and see what is being collected and what is being bought to be re-sold for a quick buck.  

“Flipping works is on the rise with the number of works being re-sold soon after production doubling last year and it appears that investors are being attracted to this market like moths to a flame – some have profited but dangers lurk ahead if an ever more likely global recession causes the market to stutter.”

Younger artists 

In 2022 wet paint sales were mostly works by young artists (under 45 years) with a record 700 works going to auction within two years of production compared to 279 in 2021 (151% increase). These lots accounted for over two thirds (68%) of all wet paint auction sales, showing unprecedented levels of speculative buying / selling in young generation artists last year. 

Robert Read continued: “It’s no surprise that emerging artists tend to be the focus of art flipping. They’re at the beginning of their careers and speculators can see greater potential upside, but this causes issues for the artist and their market, including over-valuations and unrealistic price expectations for future work.”

We know from our research for the Online Art Trade Report 2023 that more people are looking at art as an investment. Nearly two thirds (63%) of online art buyers we surveyed see this as either a strong or very strong motivation for buying art, up from 58% in 2020. The profit motive is a particularly big incentive for younger buyers (68%) and new buyers (68%) to invest in works.

Five year trends 

The practice of art ‘flipping’ is widespread across the industry and whilst more acute amongst younger generations where the perceived upside is greater, flipping works by established artists is also commonplace. 

Looking at the past five years, KAWS (57 lots), Jordy Kerwick (52 lots) and Aboudia (30 lots) have seen the highest number of works being sold at auction within two years of production. Beeple ($25m), Banksy ($21m), and Matthew Wong ($12m) top the list for wet paint auction sales value with Beeple’s $25 million generated through a single sale.

Table one: Wet paint lots sold 2018–2022 – top five

ArtistLots offered
Jordy Kerwick52
Aboudia (Abdoulaye Diarrassouba)30
Gerhard Richter28
Isshaq Ismail26

Table two: Wet paint auction sales value 2018–2022- top five 

ArtistValue ($)Number of lots 
Matthew Wong12,189,11213
Yoshitomo Nara10,787,98810
Rashid Johnson10,479,00012

Research was undertaken by art market analysis provider ArtTactic ( on behalf of Hiscox. Analysis is based on unique artworks (editions not included) made after year 2000, which have been sold in auction at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips in 2021 and 2022. The research includes more than 23,000 lots from more than 3,800 artists.

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