Cheaper Alternatives Trump Megabuck Art Auction Favourites – artmarketblog.com
Christie’s, Phillips de Pury and Sotheby’s have had a stellar few weeks producing new auction records for a long list of artists including Mark Rothko, Ai Weiwei, Roy Lichtenstein, Edvard Munch, Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter and Cy Twombly. Included in those artist auction records was the record price for any contemporary work of art at auction achieved by Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow which sold for close to $87 million at Christie’s as well as the $120 million auction record for any work of art set by Munch’s The Scream.
Amongst the hype surrounding the record prices achieved for the big names of the contemporary and modern sectors were records achieved for less well known artists that are actually more important and more revealing than those of the big name art market heroes. All the auction records achieved by big name artists reveal is that the art market is experiencing a boom period whereas the auction records achieved by lesser known artists give a more specific indication of current tastes and trends.
One of the most significant auction records for a lesser known artist was the new auction record set for Nigerian born artist El Anatsui during Bonhams 10 May 2012 5 p.m. New York Contemporary Part 1 auction. The record was achieved with the artist’s immense tapestry of flattened bottle caps titled Harbinger (found aluminum and copper wire 133 7/8 x 157 1/2in. 340 x 400cm) which sold for US$ 722,500 inc. premium against an estimate of $700,000-900,000. Harbinger was donated by Anatsui to the auction in aid of the Missing Peace Project as were a number of works by other artists. The previous auction record for El Anatsui was achieved by Sotheby’s in 2008 when a similar work to Harbinger titled Healer realised £349,250 ($605,180) against an estimate of £180,000-250,000.
The only other highlight of the Bonhams sale was the US$ 116,500 inc. premium achieved by a Vik Muniz print of Maria Callas from the artist’s Diamond Divas series. Another work from the same series this time depicting Ava Gardner was sold a day later by Phillips de Pury for the same amount. Apart from the record achieved for Anatsui, the Bonhams sale as a whole was pretty disappointing with 14 of the 22 works offered failing to sell.
The Anatsui record is one of a number of records that indicate the rise of a market for works by artists whose work is comparable to that of the most famous contemporary and modern artists but costs much less. With prices for the world’s most desirable artists reaching ridiculous heights there is an opportunity for younger artists to be discovered by the market and older artists who have perhaps been overlooked by the market to experience the recognition they perhaps always deserved.
Anatsui’s work has that same decaying, fractured, brutalist aesthetic often seen in Anselm Kiefer’s large mixed media works. At less than half the price that a major Kiefer mixed media work would fetch at auction, Anatsui’s work is a veritable bargain.
Fancy a Lichtenstein but don’t have a spare 10 million? You could have bought a major work by Nicholas Krushenik – an undervalued one forerunner of the pop art movement – at Phillips de Pury’s 11th May Contemporary Art sale for a mere $86,500. The $86,500 paid for Krushenik’s 60 Seconds, 1970 was an auction record for the artist.
Don’t want to pay millions for a Warhol painting? Once again at Phillips de Pury’s 11th May Contemporary Art sale you could have bought Study for Warhol Flowers, 1971 by Elaine Sturtevant for $278,500 against an estimate of $60,000-80,000. Sturtevant is an American based artist who has achieved recognition for her works that consist entirely of copies of other artists’ works.
Not keen on paying several million for an Ed Ruscha painting? Adam Mckewen’s Untitled (Dead), 2003 is a perfect substitute sold at the same Phillips de Pury sale for $164,500 (another artist auction record) against an estimate of $25,000-35,000.
El Anatsui (born 1944)
found aluminum and copper wire
133 7/8 x 157 1/2in. (340 x 400cm)
Sold for US$ 722,500 inc. premium
60 Seconds, 1970
acrylic on canvas
50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.6 cm)
Signed and dated “Nicholas Krushenick, 1970″ on the reverse.
SOLD AT $86,500
Study for Warhol Flowers, 1971
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
22 x 22 in. (55.9 x 55.9 cm)
Signed and titled “Study for Warhol Flowers, Sturtevant” on the reverse.
SOLD AT $278,500
Untitled (Dead), 2003
acrylic and aluminum paint on canvas
29 x 41 1/2 in. (73.7 x 105.4 cm)
Signed and dated “A. McEwen 2003″ on the reverse.
SOLD AT $164,500
**Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer. He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog.com) which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others. Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.
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