Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gerhard Richter: Hottest Art Star in the World?

Richter's "Panorama" show at the Tate
Maybe it's his giant retrospective at the Neue National Gallerie in Berlin right now, but Richter has emerged as one of the most "bankable" contemporary art stars in the World.

I remember once hearing Richter claim that he started blurring his paintings because he couldn't paint. I don't believe him. I think he's one of the most talented contemporary painters out there. I wonder if he's making anything off the spike in sales of his work though, or does it all just go to Sotheby's?

In one night this week (Feb 15th), Sotheby's made a cool $80 million, much of it by selling works by Gerhard Richter:

Eis (Ice), by Gerhard Richter

Lot 13: Ice by Gerhard Richter, 1981, estimated between 2 and 3 million pounds, sold for £4,297,250.
Dated 1981, the work was "based on a photograph taken on a solo retreat in Greenland in 1972, captures Richter's struggle with his marriage and the exodus from his troubled life in Dusseldorf to a Polar haven."[1]

Abstraktes Bild, by Gerhard Richter
  Lot 52: Abstraktes Bild by Gerhard Richter, 1992, estimated between 2 and 3 million pounds, sold for £4,857,250.

Abstraktes Bild (Rot), by Gerhard Richter

 Lot 8: Abstraktes Bild (rot) by Gerhard Richter, 1991, estimated between 2.5 and 3.4 million pounds, sold for £4,073,250

Kind (Child), by Gerhard Richter
  Lot 14: Kind (Child) by Gerhard Richter, 1989, estimated between 2 and 3 million pounds, sold for £3,065,250

"The Sotheby’s auction house made a turnover, during a “Contemporary Art Evening Auction” on 15 February 2012, of £50.7 million.  With 63.2% of the bids above the estimated value, the increased amount of lots sold well surpassed the pre-sale estimation of £35.8 million.  The auction made 90.5% of its estimated sales by lot and 94.6% by value and set two records for the artists A.R. Penck and Albert Oehlen.  Out of the 63 lots in the catalogue collection, only six went unsold." [1]

Sotheby’s reported a global sales total of $1.17 billion for contemporary art in 2011, selling a record total of $3.4 billion in total art sales in the first half of that year alone. If you add that to Christie's (first half of 2011) sales of $3.2 billion, it's easy to see that the art market is alive and well. At least, that is, at the high end: Sotheby's sold 441 works over $1,000,000.

"The [Richter] exhibition of some 130 paintings and five sculptures spanning five decades, titled "Gerhard Richter: Panorama," opens to the public at the Neue Nationalgalerie on Sunday and runs through May 13." [2]


  1. Making $80 million in one night is amazing if you consider most of the sales were around the $1 million mark. Of course, they made three times that in one night by selling one painting; Cezanne's Card Players. There seems to be no limit to the amount of cash out there.

  2. there is a long long road between the artist's studio and the auction house. I wonder if any of the money from these auctions of older pieces ever goes to the artist (no I think not) Mr. Richter is one of the most skilled, brilliant painters of the last century and I am happy that is work is so highly valued even if the numbers do sound ludicrous, and I further hope that he does in some way benefit from that kind of attention. I saw a huge retrospective of his work at SFMoMA a while ago, it was a breathtaking show full of amazing paintings that inspired me to work harder. If you can get to Berlin to see this exhibit I highly recommend doing so.

  3. basically, i'll never own a piece of art. thanks, Al.

  4. Yes, the show at SFMOMA was impressive and yet I was left slightly numb at the end of it. Perhaps he's a bit too calculating for me. Maybe the super abundance of work starts to make it all seem less mysterious - an essential element as far as I'm concerned. Then too I've never considered technical skill essential in making a compelling picture.

    Still if there has to be a hottest art star better Richter than Hirst for sure.

  5. Artist's resale right, so Richter made at least $150k over the four days of London auctions.

  6. Scott, I remember feeling the same way when I saw a Rauschenberg show: the sheer volume of work kind of cheapened the impact for me. Thanks anonymous for the 'artists resale' info.