After a multi-year run that culminated in 2012 with the first sale of one of the paintings from Eric Clapton’s triptych for $34m, the market for Gerhard Richter abstract paintings seems to be showing some weakness. During Monday’s Essl collection sale, the abstract work failed at the podium but was sold shortly after the sale for 20% below the low estimate. Colin Gleadell, writing for artnet’s news service, tried to find the positive in the news:
The sale’s biggest disappointment was the failure of Gerhard Richter’s large abstract Netz (1985), which had been bought in auction at Sotheby’s New York in June 1994 for $308,500 but went unsold. It was sold privately after the sale, Christie’s said, for a premium-inclusive £5.5 million ($8.8 million) against a £7–10 million estimate. While putting a damper on the Richter market, the price still represents a 1,686 percent increase over the 20 years.
According to Mary Romano on Bloomberg, the late sale burst the bubble of confidence surrounding these works. She got this from Phillips’s Michael McGinnis:
“It spooked people and that had an impact on this result,” McGinnis said.
Then, last night, the artist’s U.L. (above) passed. Gleadell points to the consignors having mistaken the market peak for a buying opportunity.
A small Gerhard Richter abstract U.L.(1985) (estimate: £1.5–2 million) attracted no bids. Phillips’ head of sale, Peter Sumner, said the lackluster performance of a large Richter abstract at Christie’s Essl collection sale on Monday could not have helped. The painting had also been on the market in 2012 when it sold at Christie’s London for £612,450 ($978,695).
If Gleadell is right and the failure was a mis-calculation, the two works at Christie’s on tonight—both have not been on the market for a decade—will tell us a lot more about the state of this market. It may be that everyone who wants a Richter abstract already has one. Or expectations about price simply have to be re-calibrated.
Update: Two out of three of the abstracts at Christie’s sold tonight and one was bought in. So, dire predictions didn’t come true and there was a lot of Richter on the market. This slightly earlier work from 1990 sold 10 years after being bought at Phillips returning 5x to the consignor over a ten year period, which isn’t bad.
Although Gerhard Richter’s larger abstracts experienced a few wobbles, his small abstracts were selling like hot cakes last week. One typical example was a 14 by 16 inch painting at Christie’s that had been bought in 1999 for £34,000 and sold for a double estimate £350,000.
And there was another work on paper that sold for slightly more at £374,500:
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