Ever since the financial crisis, we’ve been living within what Tobias Meyer once called a ‘Masterpiece Market.’ That is, art we’ve been in an art market that valued A+ works of art much higher than it did secondary works of all kinds. A premium was paid for works that are vivid, large and unmistakable. From 2010 through 2015, all of those Giacomettis, Picassos, Modiglianis, Rothkos, Richters,Big Warhols and Bigger Koonses were sold as signature statement works, not subtle examples of art historical interest.
For some time now, it has been apparent that buyers have been shifting way from competing for the most obvious and validated works. Trophy buying won’t stop but some of the trophy hunters no longer look so smart now that we’ve learned about Dmitry Rybolovlev’s troubles and Jho Low’s buying—and selling.
I tried to pull together some of these recent trends and look at them after the inflection point of London’s sale cycle. Here’s part of what Quartz published:
there’s a good chance we’ve seen the end of the Richter abstract market—one of the most important global markets in Contemporary art—for the near term. Other artists who were notably lacking story lines and punctuation sales were Christopher Wool, Jean-Michel Basquiat and, the most important Contemporary artist of the last 15 years, Andy Warhol.
All three of these artists will be around for many years to come, to be sure. But for now, their markets seem to have lost energy and imperative. In the case of Warhol, the powerful cadre of buyers who could be counted upon to support Warhol’s prices have been happy to sit on their paddles these last two auction cycles. Have they sold all their holdings? Or do they simply not want to risk owning any more works? Perhaps they just think Warhol prices are quite high enough. Why push things beyond where they can go?
The pros may not be chasing Warhol and Richter but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the game. Cash is still trash in today’s negative interest rate world. So buyers are looking toward artists whose lower price points but historical importance give them greater room to run. For that crucial position of high-quality, high-volume, easily recognizable, globally appealing art, buyers continue to trade Lucio Fontana the way they used to do with Warhol and Richter.