*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here
When we talk about the market, we’re really referring to a series of mini-markets. The devil is in the detail, so here are our takes on several specific artists’ markets.
There was consistent demand for works by Archipenko, which seemed to be part of a growing appetite for Modern sculpture.
A unique and easy-on-the-eye Hollywood Torso from 1936 hammered at Christie’s for $950,000 ($1.1m with fees, est. $500,000-$700,000) while a silvered bronze White Torso that was conceived in 1916 and cast in 1920 hammered at $200,000 at Philips ($250,000 with fees, est. $100,000-$150,000) while Sotheby’s sold two works including Blue Dancer, conceived in 1913 and cast later in around 1964, which went for $1.6m hammer ($1.9m with fees, est $1.5m-$2.5m) and Seated Figure (1917), a polychromed wood sculpture, which hammered at $460,00 ($564,500 with fees, est. $100,000-$150,000).
Archipenko has long been popular, partly because of the great collection of 34 early works in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the fact that the Ukrainian-born artist is often considered Russian, so his work appeals to a wide band of collectors.
Critically revered yet commercially undervalued, the market is primed to rise for works by Philip Guston, this once-Abstract artist who returned to figuration in the 1960s, producing sometimes melancholy, often savage works focusing on life’s detritus. There was anticipation that this would be the season in which the market found new levels after a year of important exhibitions: there have been rave reviews of “Philip Guston and The Poets” at the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia (until 3 September) as well as of the three exhibitions that have taken place at Hauser & Wirth in London and New York since last July (“Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975” is currently on show at Hauser & Wirth London, until 29 July).
In the event, the market for late Guston works edged upwards but has yet to experience the big leap many have been expecting. There were three paintings in the evening sales, all of which found solid bidding (Hauser & Wirth, which represents the artist’s estate, was the successful bidder on each).
Painter at Night from 1979 became the second most expensive Guston to sell at auction, hammering at $11m ($12.6m with fees, est. $8m-$12m) at Christie’s, where Untitled (1973) hammered at $1.9m ($2.3m with fees, est. $2m-$3m). Meanwhile, four bidders chased Guston’s 1969 Cigar, which hammered at $5.6m at Sotheby’s ($6.5m with fees, est. $4m-$6m), making it the sixth most expensive work by the artist at auction.
Work by Christopher Wool has been the subject of intense market demand over the past five years. The market began moving with momentum around ten years ago, accelerating in the past five (the top 20 prices for the “end-game painter” have all been set since 2012—all but one, the 20th, for his punkish word paintings) and soaring in 2013 with Apocalypse Now (1988). The work had been intended as the centerpiece of the Guggenheim’s major mid-career Wool retrospective but went instead to auction where it set a then-record, selling at Christie’s for $26.5m (est. $15m-$20m) to dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. That price was bested in 2015 when Untitled (Riot) (1990) made a new artist record, selling for $29.9m at Sotheby’s.
Now, it seems like the market has found its level—still high, though less fevered (perhaps the people who really wanted to buy a Wool word painting mostly now own one). Last week, Untitled (1988) hammered just above the high estimate at $15.1m at Christie’s ($17.2m with fees, est. $15m-$20m), making it the fourth highest price for the artist at auction.
Other works from different bodies sold close to their low estimates: Schlapp (2004) sold for $1.6 hammer at Sotheby’s ($1.9m with fees, est. $2m-$3m) while Untitled (1989) hammered at $1m at Christie’s ($1.2m with fees, est. $1m-$1.5m). Of the four works in the day sales, two sold and two were bought in. Now that the market is leveling out, focus will perhaps shift back from market performance to the importance of the work itself.
One of the great Modern masters, Agnes Martin is an artist whose critical importance has been recognized, but whose market has not yet hit the heights that many feel the work deserves. But, her market has been moving upwards: five of the artist’s top ten prices at auction have been set in the past 18 months, including Untitled #13, a 72” square painting from 1980 in pinks, blues, yellows and whites that hammered at Sotheby’s last week for $7m ($8.1m with fees, est. $5m-$7m), chased by four bidders, to become the second top auction result. It is also a record price for a painting made outside the most sought after period of the 1960s.
Another 72” square, this one pinkish-white, Untitled II (1982) hammered at $4.2m at Christie’s ($4.95m with fees, est. $2.5m-$3.5m) to take a place as the sixth most expensive auction sale.
Phillips had another 72” square, Untitled #1 (1985), a darker painting in shades of grey—a lovely work, though perhaps of less obvious appeal—which hammered at $3.3m ($3.9m with fees, est. $4m-$6m).
One of the missed opportunities of the season was Jeff Koons’ New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker (1981-86), which is one of his best early appliance pieces. These are masterworks that have been relatively conservatively priced when his market as a whole is taken into consideration, and this is a great example: yet it sold on one bid, which suggests the market has room to evolve.
This sculpture sold at Christie’s at $6.8m hammer ($7.9m with fees, est. $7m-$9m), making it the 22nd highest price for the artist at auction, and far behind his $58.5m record for his Celebration series Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994-2000), sold in 2013 at Christie’s. Only one appliance work features in Koons’ top 20: New Hoover Convertibles, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5-Gallon, Double Decker (1981-86), which sold for $11.8m at Christie’s in 2008.
The work of this postwar French artist, who founded the Art Brut movement, has fallen in and out of favor. Prices soared in the late 1980s and early 1990s when his work was chased by the Japanese buyers who propelled the market boom. But, after their sudden withdrawal, his market plunged (along with the rest of the art market).
Dubuffet, once a staple of the contemporary market, had increasingly been looking like an artist who stood at the end of a line of the kind of European figuration that lost ground as art rooted in conceptual ideology—owing more to Duchamp and Warhol than Bacon and Dubuffet—held sway.
But, in the context of today’s market, which is reassessing so much of the postwar art that had previously been ignored by the American and European markets (such as from Asia and South America), rediscovery in our own Euro-centric backyard is taking place.
A reconsideration of Dubuffet has been playing out in the market over the past few years: all but one of his top ten auction prices have been set since 2014, and there is room for further growth.
Two works sold, with fees, within $100,000 of each other last week, creeping into the artist’s top ten: Le Truand (1954), part of the Cleveland Clinic property sale at Christie’s, which sold above its high estimate to hammer at $4.7m ($5.5m with fees, est. $2m-$3m) and Gesticuleur (1946) which hammered at $3.9m ($5.4m with fees, est. $1.5m-$2m) at Sotheby’s, where Le Bateau II (1964) also sold at $1.8m ($2.2m with fees, est. $1.8m-2.5m).
This was a season heavy on images of morose men with Stingel’s Untitled (After Sam) (2017) one of the largest examples. This 15ft-long canvas more than doubled the previous $4.7m auction record for the artist, hammering on one bid at $9.2m ($10.6m with fees, est. $10m-$15m) at Christie’s.
It was the third time Stingel’s former record was smashed over the course of two nights: later in the same sale Untitled (2012), a galvanized cast copper work, hammered at $5.8m to become the third most expensive work by the artist at auction ($6.7m with fees, est. $4.5m-$5.5m).
At Sotheby’s the following evening, Untitled (2012) a large electroformed copper, plated nickel and gold work, had the same hammer but took second place in the records ($6.9m, est. $5m-$7m).
Overall, there were nine Stingels on the block across the evening and day sales last week, estimated to sell for a total between $21.4m-$30.3m. Eight sold for a total $26.1m when fees were added, which shows that while presale expectations were high, there is strong demand for work by Stingel.
This is an example of a market on the move. A record was set for the artist at auction last week when the red Freischwimmer 123 (2004), hammered at $540,000 ($660,500 with fees, est. $200,000 – $300,000) at Sotheby’s. The Freischwimmer series (the title of which refers both to the German levels of swimming proficiency as well as ‘one who swims freely’), were all created in the darkroom without a camera or negative—abstract images that appear to float.
Six of the top ten prices for these works have been set this year alone. So far, there doesn’t appear to be a hierarchy forming for certain colors (as there is with, for example, Fontana slash works). Another abstract work, quiet mind (2005), sold at Phillips. The framed chromogenic print, filled with atmospheric greens, was also created without a camera and was chased by several bidders to hammer at $260,000 ($322,000 with fees, est. $70,000-$100,000), suggesting growing demand for his work, specifically his non-representational photographs.
The market demand comes in tandem with major institutional exhibitions. Critics have lavished praise on the Tillmans retrospective at Tate (“Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017”, until 11 June), while visitors to the Art Basel fair next month can take in a major exhibition of his work at the Fondation Beyeler—the first time the institution has devoted a show on this scale to photography (until 1 October).