Thornton on the Warhol Market

Sarah Thornton on NPR

Sarah Thornton discusses her Economist article on the market for Andy Warhol works on National Public Radio.

The Economist story they’re discussing is getting attention for Thornton’s report that Philippe Segalot brokered a $100 million deal for Eight Elvises a year ago. But there are some other interesting details from the Warhol market. For instance, here’s an interested party talking his book:

  • Alberto Mugrabi, whose family owns some 800 Warhol works, notes that “two years ago we were selling ten Warhols a month, now we’re selling two a month, but we’re selling them for the same price. Either we get our price or we don’t sell the painting.”
  • “Warhol really consists of two markets,” explains Brett Gorvy, co-head of Christie’s contemporary-art department. “One market chases ultra-rare, art-historically relevant paintings from the 1960s. The other is a perfect volume market where 24-inch Flowers and single Jackies trade like any other commodity.”
  • with the rise of Asian art-buying Maos have been commanding higher prices, such as the $17.4m paid at Christie’s for a big blue one by Joseph Lau, the Hong Kong collector. In early 2008 a Chinese collector offered $100m for a “Giant Mao”, but the owner turned it down. There are some 200 Maos in a range of sizes, but only four giants.

One final point about Warhol that is more economic than art historic: What drives the Warhol market is a combination of ubiquity and differentiation. Damien Hirst found his way to a similar structure for his artistic output where huge quantity was counter-posed against an elite circle of highly valuable works. Takashi Murakami has accomplished something similar where circumstances and intention have created rare and important works within a large body of output.

The Pop Master’s Highs and Lows (Economist)