Kelly Crow has a very good story in the Wall Street Journal chronicling the re-evaluation of Salvador Dali’s later work. The piece goes into great detail about the artist’s career and the success of museum shows that discovered a youth market deeply interested in Dali.
Crow broadens the import of the story by citing these other artists who experienced a similar rush of interest in the late works:
In Picasso’s case, buyers rarely paid more than $100,000 for his 1960s series of musketeers a decade ago. But Gagosian’s show last year proved influential among the art world’s elite, and the auction houses quickly sought out sellers willing to put their own musketeers up for sale. Prices for late Picassos rose quickly last year to $10 million-plus. By May 2009, Christie’s had sold a 1968 “Musketeer With a Pipe” for $14.6 million.
Museum exhibits and gallery shows have similarly helped convince collectors to reconsider Willem de Kooning’s 1980s abstracts, Joan Miró’s squiggly post-1960s paintings and Claude Monet’s plum-colored water lilies from the 1910s—all deemed unfashionable several years ago. Three months ago, Sotheby’s sold a purple self-portrait that Warhol made months before he died in 1986 for $32.5 million, more than double its high estimate and the third-highest price ever paid at auction for a Warhol.
But in two of these cases, the evidence is a little misleading. Gagosian’s landmark late Picasso show came at the end of the price raising process, not the beginning. For several years, Contemporary collectors got into the market for late Picasso works and drove the prices higher to a point where a dealer like Gagosian could ratify and cement the body of work’s new status.
The late Warhol self-portraits have been a continual presence on the Contemporary art market for the last several years, their rising prices provoked a rueful book about selling too soon. In the case of Warhol, the influential, eye-catching, redefining show was not for the ‘fright wig’ pictures but for the later celebrity portraits. Those pictures haven’t yet taken off in response to the exhibition in Paris last year.
The same can be said for the de Kooning market which saw a rise in the 1970s landscape paintings driven by a group of influential Russian collectors that peaked before the 1980s work began to see a rise. As the demand for 70s work was satisfied, prices retreated. The demand for 1980s work–which received some active support from a Gagosian show long before prices began to rise–also fails to fit into a neat pattern of a top-down market.
So, while there is no doubt that influential museum and gallery shows have a strong effect on prices and sales, the hidden driver is the decisions made by a few influential collectors, not the same ones, that define a new level of value.
The Lust for Late (Wall Street Journal)