Last night at Christie’s record-breaking sale of Contemporary art, two abstract paintings came back on the market not long after their prominent public sales. One increased 70% in value over 18 months. The other sold at at a loss that reset the price 11% lower. Both works were guaranteed. So don’t feel bad for the loser.
Nonetheless, the divergent results remind us once again that the art market is not a monolith. Each sale has its own story. We might not know the details behind the Richter abstract that succeeded so well last night even as another Richter abstract failed to find a buyer.
Gerhard Richter’s large-scale “Abstrakts Bild (712)” from 1990. Squeegeed with great elan and color-bursting effects, it sold for $ 29,285,000, once again to a bidder on the phone with Xin Li (est. $22-28 million). It was protected by a third-party financial guarantee.
The painting had last come up at Sotheby’s New York in November 2012, when it sold for $17,442,500 against an unpublished estimate.
The work is certainly impressive but the Richter abstract market seems to have already leveled off before this sale. The work re-sold last night (above, left) was purchased after Eric Clapton’s panel from a Richter triptych set the record of $34.2m for the series. Few other Richter abstracts are generating such interest. And yet the results are readily apparent.
Meanwhile, Clyfford Still’s PH-1033 (above, right) was resold at a loss. It’s first sale came from the City of Denver as it raised money for the Still museum it now hosts. The original sale was seen as a rare opportunity because the Still museum contains more than 90% of the artist’s work.
The success of Richter’s abstract paintings has been a combination of their innovation, abstract subject matter and the high volume of the artist’s output. With less market making than other high volume artists, Richter’s abstracts have become a global phenomenon. Indeed, the one last night went to a Chinese buyer.
Since Christie’s staked its own capital, we have to assume they had some confidence they could pull off a similar trick with the Still as they did with the Richter. Did Asian buyers snub the Still because there just aren’t enough examples of the artist’s work held privately and globally?