12/28/2011 03:31 pm ET

Gerhard Richter Tops Art World's Changing Market

Gerhard Richter is at the head of a changing art market. The German artist, known for his ability to cover a range of styles, from the abstract to the photorealistic, is at the top of the list for new art buyers looking for sound investments.

The two major auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's, totaled $1.7 billion in sales for their evening auctions, up from $1.2 billion last year. The upward trend is the result of new buyers who are flooding the art world, looking for established contemporary artists with reliable reputations.

"The art market is a place for new people these days," New York-based dealer Christophe Van de Weghe, said in an interview with Bloomberg. "There are Americans nobody has seen before who are excited by this world and who want an alternative to shares. And then there are buyers coming in from places like India and China. The collectors who bought 15 years ago aren't prepared to pay today's higher prices."

While the market is still down from the astronomical high of $2.4 billion in 2007, this upward trend could be the result of a shifting demographic rather than speculative bidding and hype. "The market is hungry for great works at 'masterpiece' level," Mary Hoeveler, a New York-based art adviser said in an interview. "There is tremendous wealth to buy them. New buyers are also migrating to the contemporary market from other more traditional art collecting fields. Demand for contemporary art has increased exponentially."

Reputable and collectible, Richter embodies everything that new contemporary art collectors are looking for. His 1997 "Abstraktes Bild" sold for a record $20.8 million to Bernard Arnault, chairman of the luxury conglomerate LVMH.

"Richter is going to play a huge role in the market for years to come," Jonathan Binstock, a senior contemporary-art adviser at Citibank NA, said. "Collectors are going for artists with proven reputations."