A trailblazer of the New British Sculpture movement in the 80s, Julian Opie fuses Pop Art and sculptural minimalism. The average value of Julian Opie's artwork has experienced a 19% growth between 2017 and 2022, with the typical price paid for Julian Opie prints now reaching £8,544.
Under the hammer, Julian Opie’s nudes and walking scenes are among his most popular, with the highest price ever paid for a Julian Opie painting achieved in March 2021, when Walking in Sadang-Dong in the Rain, a painting that uses pedestrians as his models, sold for £160,750 at Seoul Auction.
This article explores the most expensive Julian Opie pieces sold at auction to date.
Opie has often used pedestrians as his models, and Walking in Sadang-Dong in the Rain is a perfect example of why. The crowded composition is offset by the fact that these people don’t seem to look at or even acknowledge each other - they allow for the artist to stare and visually record without any performativity. We can also see here Opie’s working technique, which involves simplifying photographs into their most basic elements, while retaining a level of individuality in each figure - just as we see in the different outfits and umbrellas held by the people here. Sold for £160,750 at the Seoul auction on March 23rd 2021, this painting epitomises Opie’s fascination with the balance between individuality and universality.
Depicted in paintings, sculpture, prints and moving LED lights, Opie’s artworks of nudes and women undressing are among his most frequent themes. It is also the most popular subject with his collectors: Woman Posing In Underwear 1 stands as the most expensive work by Opie at auction. When it was offered at Christie’s in New York on 1 March 2018, it achieved over four times its high estimate. Previously owned by a California-based collector, the painting is also a rare example of Opie’s artwork offered outside of the UK – all his other top prices at auction were achieved in London sales – which suggests the artist’s growing international appeal and market.
A familiar sight for those dwelling in London, Opie's Walking In London In The Rain captures a view of a typical day in the rainy metropolis. A veritable rainbow of saturated colours pervades this painting, which excels in depicting a vastly different city and people to that of his Walking In Sadang-Dong In The Rain.
From 7 until 14 June 2022, Walking In London In The Rain was sold for £157,227 at the Modern & Contemporary Auction at Sotheby's, Switzerland.
Opie's endless fascination for figures-in-motion continues to make waves, shattering nearly double its presale estimates. Unlike the same artwork sold at Christie's for £87,500, Paisley Dress And Red Gown was sold for £130,338 during the Modern & Contemporary Art at Tokyo's SBI Art Auction on 24 April 2021. This stunning piece has also exceeded close to thrice its estimates of £40,104-60,156, akin to its counterpart in London.
Opie's 2019 print of New York Couple 1-8 ensnares yet another moment in time. With a complete array of eight different 'couples' Opie came across in the streets of New York, the print exemplifies the modes of human interaction - both distant and within reach.
Opie described "the side on walker" poignantly, stating of their "very human power and elegance and dynamic." New York Couple 1-8 sold for £117,738 at Tokyo Contemporary: Redefined in Tokyo's SBI Art Auction.
A comprehensive set of Julian Opie’s New York Couple series, New York Couples was offered at auction on 19 July 2022 by Christie's New York as part of their Contemporary Edition sale and fetched an incredible £104,809. This complete set presents eight walking couples captured by Opie in all of their diversity. Working from real life, taking photographs of pedestrians, Opie then manipulated each print and reduced the photographs to a matter of simplified shapes and signs.
Another rare example of an Opie complete set, it is no surprise that the portfolio became the eighth-most-expensive Opie work to go under the hammer.
Alongside nudes, Opie’s depictions of people walking or running are among his best-known works. The artist has captured pedestrians around the world, from London and New York to Melbourne and Seoul. Often hiring a photographer or asking his assistants to photograph people on the street, Opie is attracted to the unpredictability of the characters he will come across. “Each one throws up surprises and opportunities that I could not invent – a tattoo or a tasselled dress, a goatee or the logo on a T-shirt,” he has said.
Red Socks And Chanel Bag, painted in 2015, was donated by Opie to Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction in London on 2 July 2015, with proceeds going to benefit Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. The painting sold for over three times its high estimate, possibly aided by its provenance and charitable cause.
Opie’s work is often described as 21st century portraiture. His use of the moving image and film only supports this further - with works like People, 21 demonstrating his ability to combine his recognisable, stencil-like style with new artistic techniques. The pedestrian is also a motif that Opie consistently returns to as it seems to be the perfect vessel in which to capture his subjects in a state of unawareness, while drawing our attention to the diversity of those he depicts. Once simplified, the only means we have of distinguishing individuals in Opie’s work is often through their clothing or accessories, perhaps a comment on how we choose to express ourselves in the modern world. The suggestion of monotony is also captured in the repetition of the footage here, these figures stride but never reach their destination, showing us how, for Opie, the destination is the subject of the traveling people themselves.This work sold for £92,959 at the SBI Art Auction, Japan, on 30th October 2021.
Standing almost 3 metres tall, This Is Sara 1 is one of two paintings, drawn on glass, that Opie made of Sara in 2004. Like Woman Posing In Underwear 1, the work is a classic example of Opie’s signature, graphic style and an exploration of his interest in the female form in motion. When it was offered at Christie’s in London on 15 October 2011, This Is Sara 1 sold for over £91,000 against a high estimate of £25,000.
Much like how Opie turned to strippers as muses to provide him with more dynamic poses, he has also painted dancers for that same reason. Large-scale and visually captivating, Ryoichi and Mara sold for £89,050 at Seoul Auction on June 20th 2018. It is particularly interesting to see how Opie manages to retain his signature visual simplicity, while simultaneously conveying the complex movement in the dancer’s bodies here. The artist’s fascination with the female form and its appearance in motion is captured clearly in Mara’s arabesque.
At Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction in London on 12 February 2020, Opie’s Female Nude Standing Hands Behind achieved £87,500, more than double its high estimate of £35,000.
In this work, two fashionable women cross each other on the street, yet are unaware of each other’s presence as they stare at their phones. This lack of awareness and self-consciousness is what Opie finds most appealing about using pedestrians as models. “Instead of seeming to pose for the viewer, they walk on by without a glance, coolly ignoring you and thus allowing you to stare,” he said. Like Red Socks and Chanel Bag, made in the same year, Paisley Dress And Red Gown is characteristic of Opie’s walking scenes – the work realised £87,500 in Christie’s London auction on 26 June 2019, more than double its low estimate of £35,000.
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