Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
Interested in buying or selling
In Andy Warhol’s case, the march to acquire his most important prints has been relentless. The biggest moment in the Warhol market so far in 2022 was the record-breaking sale of the Shot Sage Blue Marilyn painting in May at Christies, where it became the most expensive 20th century artwork ever to be sold at auction selling for £158 million. The press surrounding this sale was unprecedented and has garnered huge demand in the Warhol market. It is no wonder that Marilyn prints are ever increasing in price and are the hottest edition on the Pop market in 2022. A complete portfolio of Marilyn prints sold in May 2022 at Christie’s for just under £5 million. A similar portfolio sold in May 2021 at Sotheby’s for just over £2 million, a great example of the Marilyns extraordinary growth in value.
Another notable development has been the demand for complete Warhol portfolios. Collectors are willing to pay a premium for a complete set that’s “mint in the box.” The market is particularly keen on sets with matching numbers, that have never been framed and hinged, and which haven’t seen the light of day. While these pristine portfolios are obviously hard to come by, they’re worth buying and holding — even if you lose out on the pleasure one gets from hanging the images on your wall.
While all of the Warhol portfolios are in demand, there’s been tremendous recent price growth in the Endangered Species (1983) set. A complete set of Warhol’s Endangered Species, comprising 10 screen prints each numbered at 125/150, sold at Sotheby’s in 2021 for a whooping £2,919,000, setting a record for a sale of a complete Warhol set and selling well-beyond the high-end estimate for the series, which had been set at £550,000. By contrast, some of the smaller portfolios, such as the Skulls, Muhammad Ali, and Shoes, feel almost overlooked. Perhaps, the biggest surprise has been the competition to secure any of the four versions of Queen Elizabeth II (from the Reigning Queens portfolio). Prices at auction have been in the £150,000-£350,000 range for each individual print. The Queen Elizabeth II Royal Edition (F.S. II.334A) sold for £327,600 in July 2022, when in September 2017 a very similar version sold for £75,000, an increase of 77% in just over five years. When they were first released (1985), they were considered somewhat commercial and didn’t sell well. Both the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II have and will continue to have a profound impact on Warhol’s images of the monarch.
During the last five years, the Roy Lichtenstein print market has been steady. Collectors continue to pay a premium for Sweet Dreams Baby! and Reverie. Impressions in exceptional condition — that are not faded, creased, or re-screened — are leaving their weaker condition “cousins” in the dust. While condition matters for all prints, early Lichtensteins are in a class by themselves. The fact that there are so few “clean” examples available of the above prints, should encourage collectors to explore other images. Given Lichtenstein’s high batting average as a printmaker, there are plenty to choose from.
Following the logic of the Warhol print “portfolio” market, you can see an analogous situation developing for complete sets of various Roy Lichtenstein series. A good (and expensive) bet might be to try and acquire every print in the Landscape Series (1985). Another possibility would be to pursue every work from the Reflections Series (1990). A third, and somewhat affordable option, is to buy a complete Entablatures set (1976). Given Lichtenstein’s importance in 20th century art, works from all three groups feel undervalued. When it comes to purchasing an entire Lichtenstein series, the sleeper in the group is the American Indian Theme Series (1980). As the current interest in contemporary Native American art grows, it would not be surprising if collectors take a closer look at these modest but attractive works. Over the last five years, they have commanded only minimal interest in the art market, rarely appearing at auction and selling for anything between £5,000 and £20,000 — which makes them an attractive buy.
The Keith Haring print market also seems connected to the recent trend of buying portfolios as long-term investments. The large-scale boldly colored set, Fertility Series (1983), is the pinnacle of Haring’s printmaking achievement. They were done when the artist was in his prime and are some of the greatest prints of the last forty years. Over the last five to ten years, they have experienced growing demand and corresponding prices. Between 2015 and 2019, the Fertility Series increased in value by 146%, selling for £175,341 at Phillips New York in 2019, where in 2015 a very similar set sold for £71,246. Still, if one has the funds and can find a complete set in mint condition, it would be hard to overpay for them.
Keith Haring’s Andy Mouse group of four silkscreens continues to be sought after. Here, Keith reproduced his friend Andy Warhol’s likeness — right down to his legendary fright wig. What’s more, he had Andy sign each print, adding to their value. In June 2021, a complete set sold for a staggering £891,424 at Ketterer Kunst. In July 2020, an Andy Mouse 4 went for £227,876 at Ketterer Kunst, a significant increase from the sale of another print from this same edition, which sold for £144,768 in July 2019. Whether you buy an individual Andy Mouse or the whole set of four, they are keepers.
Haring’s graphics output is considerable — yet not overwhelming. There are plenty of opportunities for those with limited funds. One of the great bargains appears to be Self-Portrait (1986). Though modest in scale (6” x 6”), it packs a punch. Quoting ancient mythology, Keith portrayed himself as a lion-pawed being — like the famous Sphinx in Egypt. This print was executed in a small edition (25) and should be “pounced on” when one comes on the market.
In fact, the price disparity between Haring’s black and white images and colour prints represent a bona fide opportunity to pursue the former as they become available. The print Untitled (1987) falls into this category. Since Untitled is a large edition of 170, and a generous scale (29 ½” x 35 3/8”), it offers a lot of value. The relatively large size of the edition works in its favour because it presents an opportunity for the vast number of Haring buyers to own a work of substance — which in turn should fuel interest in the print.
Of all the Pop and post-Pop artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat created the smallest number of prints (by far). In 1983, New City Editions, based in Venice, California and co-owned by Basquiat scholar Fred Hoffman, released a limited number of exceptional graphics. The high point of Basquiat’s residency at the press was the serigraph, Back of the Neck. This has become a print market standout, which always seems to top itself (pricewise) when one comes up for sale. In March 2021, Back of the Neck sold for £801,500 at Sotheby’s, beating its record from the previous year of £627,500 at Phillips. New City Editions also released two other prints, both of which were each screened on canvas; Tuxedo and Untitled. While they are desirable and hard to find (each was done in an edition of 10), Back of the Neck remains the prize.
In 2001, Band X Editions collaborated with the Basquiat Estate to release a portfolio of four major graphics. In 2004, they followed up with a second portfolio, which also consisted of four prints. Once again, the portfolio-themed buying trend — which also informed the recent Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Haring print markets — has come into play. Many of these portfolios have been broken up so the prints could be sold individually — making a complete set hard to find.
Each of these silkscreens reproduce a well-known Basquiat canvas. The quality of the paper, ink, printing, and large-scale images are impressive. When they were released, there was some controversy over the morality of producing posthumous graphics by a world-renowned artist. However, from the get-go, the art market responded positively. The fact that Sotheby’s and Christie’s handles these works has led to growing prices for all eight prints. With Basquiat’s unique works in the financial stratosphere, the Band X prints have given collectors a comparatively reasonably priced opportunity to own the “Basquiat experience.”