Galerie Ropac opens a retrospective of Alex Katz’s portraits with a short video that has the artist confessing that he may have the largest public he’s ever had at the age of 86. A show closed recently at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and there seemed to be more Katz around the Armory Show and the ADAA’s Art Show than ever before. But none of that makes up for the fact that Katz lags behind other painters in terms of his market performance.
For those who think the art market is simply manipulated by the auction houses and galleries, here is a long lasting painter who has the support of three very prominent galleries. In 2002, just after one of his works achieved a record price of $666k that would only be surpassed once half-a-dozen years later, one exceptionally powerful auction house specialist in Contemporary art predicted that his market would take off in the coming years.
Yet two market booms have passed and Contemporary art has moved to center stage without the spotlight shining on Katz. The artist declares his subject matter “soft,” “pretty girls, flowers and stuff.” But the “form of the paintings is very aggressive.” And even though his work has had wide appeal in fashion and film, his market remains on a slow and steady track.
Artnet was kind enough to share one of their artist’s reports on Katz. From this graph, you can see that since 2004 the works that come up at auction consistently sell above the estimates. So there’s demand for the artist’s work.
Unfortunately, that demand seems to be stuck in the lower ranges, perhaps because few paintings capture big prices and the artist has created a large body of prints. Below you can see a chart of Katz’s average prices which remain near the levels of 2007.
Perhaps more important to the artist’s market is the small number of paintings that appear at auction. The artist’s peak year of auction sales was 2007 when 35 works were sold. That success brought 43 works to market in 2008 but the ill-fated year did the artist’s prices no favor as 35% of those failed to find buyers.
A strong recovery and consistent sales from 2011-13 have again brightened his market. So far this year, six works have sold out of the six offered.
The problem seems to lie in the small number of paintings on the market. Katz’s collectors are not buying deeply and, indeed, 2013 saw a number of works go unsold.