Gerhard Richter is the new Picasso. There are hard charging, realist, political works dealing with terrorism and fascism, like Picasso’s epic Guernica, and, in addition, an easily recognizable, saccharine sweet strain of abstractions that all your friends are sure to covet and admire. Having recently sold a painting in London (next market Mecca after New York and previously Paris) for $34.3m, slamming his previous record of $21.8m after a brief period of only five months. Richter is now the most expensive living artist, and in no uncertain terms, way beyond Jasper Johns ($28.6m), Jeff Koons ($25.7m) and Damien Hirst ($19.2).
I purposefully have not included any Chinese artists among this group due to the unreliable nature of their auction system to date, perhaps Sotheby’s attempt to buy 80% control of Beijing GeHua Art Co. will change that, but its yet to be government approved. In the art market land of consensus building and price momentum, great only gets greater. And with the spillover of such rapid inflation of late, good gets good-er and even the bad starts to smell ok (more on that).
Back to the Richter riot, the nearly $35m abstract painting was sold by none other than guitar hero Eric Clapton, and for that price, he should have thrown in a signed guitar or two. Clapton bought the work in 2001, part of 3 Richter abstractions in a single auction lot, for a then record sum of about $3m. In what way can you analyze and interpret such a transaction and return of more than 30x, in this or any other economic climate? How about like this: Wow! Not to mention the average price of a Richter has skyrocketed from $460k to just shy of $3m in about 10 years.
The celebrity cachet might have accounted for up to 20% and add to that Gerhardrichter.com, the world’s most thorough and systematized website for any artist, alive or otherwise (all rather Germanic, no?). As Richter numbered every art work he has made since practically a baby, the certainly of being able to call up all of his canvases online provides an (almost) airtight built-in authentication process in a time when many estates are dropping certification of artworks due to escalating liability exposure should something go wrong. Let’s give a collective clap for Clapton.