London Art Reviews

Magazine of art press and reviews from London

Record price auction for a Richter from Eric Clapton’s collection, at Sotheby’s.

Record price auction for a Richter from Eric Clapton’s collection, at Sotheby’s.

David Franchi – Thursday, 22nd November 2012

“It was the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist”

Gerhard Richters, Abstraktes Bild (809-4), 1994 © Photo: Sotheby’s

Recently, rock guitarist Eric Clapton has sold a work by Richter for a record price. A Gerhard Richter painting, part of Eric Clapton‘s art collection, sold for a record 21.3 million pounds ($34.2 million). It was the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist. German artist’s “Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London, last 12th October.

Eric Clapton bought the abstract work in 2001. It was expected to sell for around £10 million but it fetched more than ten times what Clapton paid for it. According to the auction tracker database Artnet, when Clapton bought his painting, the average auction price of a Richter work was $461,910.

Dealers said values have been increased by the critical and popular success of recent Richter exhibitions. A retrospective, “Gerhard Richter: Panorama”, was exhibited at Tate Modern in London (2011) and at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Staatlichen Museum in Berlin this year.

Probably, there are hundreds of abstract paintings by Richter. However, since 2008 they have become status symbols among the world’s super rich, including Roman Abramovich. For example, the top buyer Lily Safra donated hers to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

It was the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist, over £21m. The previous auction record for Richter was the £13.5m ($21.8 million) for the 1993 “Abstraktes Bild (7938-3)” at Christie’s International, New York, in May.

The sale broke the previous auction record for a living artist of £17.8m paid for Jasper Johns’ Flag at Christie’s auction house in New York in 2010.

In November 2001, Eric Clapton bought three Richters for $3.4 million at Sotheby’s New York, in between was the abstract one that recently made the record. At the time, this was an auction record for a lot containing abstracts by the German artist.

“People are still ready to pay top prices for great paintings,” Christophe Van de Weghe, a New York dealer, said in an interview “While the market is selective, the Clapton provenance made a difference. It could have added as much as 20 percent to the price.” But Felix Salmon, a blogger from Reuters, strongly disagree Clapton’s provenance could have added a 20 per cent more, and he wrote: “… Christophe Van de Weghe is an idiot”.

Eric Clapton, 67, studied art for a year before his career took off. He is an astute businessman, who is worth £140million. Clapton has used some of the fortune he made out of his music, to build an extensive art collection.

Clapton is active in the auction market and making profit. For example, he also collects watches, one of which, a rare Patek Philippe, 1987, sold at Christie’s Geneva Important Watch auction held last 12th November. It was another record price set by Clapton. His Patek Philippe platinum perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases sold for 3.4 million Swiss francs ($3.6 million, 2.9 million euro).

In 1997 Clapton sold 32 works for £420,000, including paintings by Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas.

In 2011, Clapton sold more than 70 of his guitars at a charity auction in New York to raise $2.15 million for the Crossroads Centre drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre that he founded in Antigua.

Gerhard Richter, 80, lives and works in Cologne. He was born in Dresden and grew up in communist East Germany. His work includes both abstract and figurative paintings as well as photographs. He is regarded as one of the world’s greatest living painters, with works in many public and private collections.

Gerhard Richter has become the world’s most bankable living artist, dealers say. His highly decorative abstractions, often painted with a squeegee, have become particularly sought-after by wealthy international collectors and set seven of the ten highest prices paid for the artist at auction. The total value of Richter‘s works sold at auction in 2011 topped £124.5m ($200m), according to the database Artnet – more than those of any other living artist.

“Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London to an anonymous buyer after five minutes of bidding. However, stern competition between two anonymous telephone bidders meant the work eventually sold for £21,321,250. The buyer was Natasha Mendelsohn of Sotheby’s, acting for a client on the telephone. Her colleague Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, underbid her by also taking instructions for a client.

Despite it looks a bit trashy, “Abstraktes Bild (808-4)”, an oil painting realised in 1994, was described by Sotheby’s as a “masterpiece of calculated chaos” and a “paradigm of Gerhard Richter‘s mature artistic and philosophical achievement”.

In a moment of such a world economic crisis, top art market has performed strongly in recent years.

The 1994 oil-on-canvas “Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” was sold by Sotheby’s in London for its “Frieze Week” auction of contemporary artworks. Also nearby in Mayfair the Pavilion of Art and Design was ongoing.

At Sotheby’s main evening sale, there was a more historically classical selection, made perhaps to catch the audience at the new Frieze Masters fair for older work.

When the Frieze Art Fair started 10 years ago, London’s Frieze week auctions brought a modest £6.5 million, but this year £101 million was reached. Now with Frieze Masters thrown into the mix, the trend is likely to see even higher value sales next year.

Is Richter’s Abstraktes Bild worth the money? Art prices soared to such illogical levels. It is about what auction houses can get people to pay. For example, Booker prizes are far more less money doomed. Visual art is turning in a dirty game for super rich businessmen, pushing out of the environment start ups and creative artist.

However, a different sort of business is coming from events such as Affordable Art Fair, where it is possible to buy for artwork for very low prices, and some of them are from very famous artist too.

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