Who Will Buy 'The Scream'?

On 2 May one of the most iconic pieces of art in the world, Edward Munch'sfrom 1895, will be sold at auction at Sotheby's New York. The piece is expected to fetch in excess of $80million. Who then, is the likely buyer of what has undoubtedly become one of the most recognisable images in art history?

On 2 May one of the most iconic pieces of art in the world, Edward Munch's The Scream from 1895, will be sold at auction at Sotheby's New York. The piece is expected to fetch in excess of $80million, making it one of the most expensive artworks ever to be auctioned.

Described as the artwork which paved the way for early 20th Century Expressionism, this iconic painting has made an impact on modern popular culture, beyond just the art world. You do not need to be an art connoisseur to understand its universal appeal and importance. Who then, is the likely buyer of what has undoubtedly become one of the most recognisable images in art history?

If this sale had occurred 10 years ago, we would have been able to say with some degree of certainty where the buyer would have come from and who it might have been. Even as recently as the turn of the Millennium, the art world was dominated by Europe and America with the big collectors and art buyers coming almost exclusively from these regions. Looking back almost exactly 10 years from today, the most expensive painting sold in 2002 was The Massacre of the Innocents by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, which was bought by the Canadian businessman Kenneth Thomsen for $76.5 million at Sotheby's in London.

Fast-forward a few years and the transformation of the art market into a truly global one becomes increasingly apparent.

In 2006 the Mexican financier and collector, David Martinez is believed to have bought Jackson Pollock's No 5 from 1948 for some $140 million. The same year Georgian businessman Boris Ivanishvili bought the beautiful painting by Pablo Picasso Dora Maar au chat from 1941 for $95.1 million. A year later, Joseph Lau from Hong Kong was rumoured to have purchased Warhol's 1963 Green Car Crash - Green Burning Car I for $71.7 million, a figure which remains the largest amount ever paid for a Warhol work at auction.

In 2008 Roman Abramovich, then a newcomer to the art market, purchased a 1976 triptych by Francis Bacon for $86.3 million; a world record for the artist. In 2010 Brazilian-born Lily Safra raised another new record when she paid $103.4 million for Giacometti's 1961 bronze, Walking Man I. At the time of the sale it was the highest price ever paid at auction, before Picasso reclaimed that title when Nude, Green Leaves and Bust from 1932 sold for $106.5 million only a few months later.

In May of last year it became China's turn, when mainland collectors Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei from Shanghai entered the exclusive company at the top end of the art world, paying $65.5 million for a work by Chinese artist Qi Baishi, titled Eagle standing on pine tree from 1946.

As we entered 2012 I felt strongly that this would be a big year for the art market; it wasn't long before that feeling became a reality and a new benchmark was set once again. In February the royal family in Qatar bought the most expensive painting ever sold, paying more than $250 million for Paul Cezanne's The Card Players from 1892-93.

A new order is emerging. As the growth in the world's ultra-rich shifts eastward, we witness a fundamental shift in the art market. While the US and Europe remain the central driving forces, regions such as China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and the Middle East are beginning to have a much more significant impact on the market.

It is clear to me that big money buyers are increasingly coming from outside of Europe and North America. This means that while the individual who buys The Scream must have the disposable income in place and desire strong enough to outbid any other potential buyer, they are just as likely to come from China, Russia, Brazil or the Middle East as they are from anywhere else in the world.

Indeed a number of buyers from these regions are renowned for 'trophy buying' some of the most iconic modern and contemporary art pieces that come up for sale and it may well be one of these collectors who is prepared to bid the $80 million plus that it could require to secure ownership.

If the buyer is to be a European, then one strong possibility is that a Norwegian may put in a patriotic bid to bring the Munch piece 'home'. The piece is one of, if not the biggest cultural export ever to have come out of Norway, and therefore a nationalist may well make a move to purchase the piece. These patriotic buying patterns are increasingly being seen in the art world; in China, for example, local buyers are well known for wanting to bring Chinese works back to where they originated from.

With more and more potential buyers making themselves known globally, records will continue to be broken as we move further towards the prediction I have stated regularly - that we will witness the first $1billion art work being sold within our lifetime, most likely at the hands of a Chinese buyer.

Today The Scream is as powerful and emotional as ever before and this sale is the chance to capitalise on a once in a generation, possibly once in a lifetime, opportunity to acquire Munch's masterpiece. Whoever the buyer might be - a Russian oligarch, a Chinese billionaire, an American collector or a Scandinavian patriot - one thing is for sure, this individual will not simply be buying a valuable piece of art, he or she will become the very proud owner of one the most important cultural creations of modern times. I anticipate a new auction record will once again be set on the 2 May 2012 in New York.


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