Era Defining Artist Markets Remain Resilient: Auction Highlights April 2023

Four screen printed flowers against a background of green grass. The flowers vary in sizes, and are block coloured in orange, pink and yellow.Flowers (F. & S. II.6) © Andy Warhol 1964
Rebecca Marsham

Rebecca Marsham, Sales Director[email protected]

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Across eight bounteous Modern & Contemporary auctions this month, blue chip masters continue to dominate the secondary art market. With particularly astonishing results from Andy Warhol and David Hockney, these modern masters show salient value growth as their markets continue to gain momentum. In London, New York, and online sales, this month has proved fruitful across American Pop, Modern British, Post-War & Contemporary, and Street & Urban Art. Once again, results are demonstrative of a healthy, lucrative, and investable art market.

Collectors gathered, in person and online, this month for a host of auctions presenting the formidable forces of 20th-21st century art. In these seven Modern & Contemporary auctions alone, some 1,105 lots were sold, ranging across individual prints and editions, complete print portfolios, and originals. Across Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips, sales climbed above their high presale estimates - strengthening several artist markets. Unsurprisingly, Warhol and Hockney were the stars of the show this month: breaking records and solidifying their steady position as modern masters.

Alongside these household names, American Pop legends also performed phenomenally. Works offered by Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat yielded consistently high results, proving their dominance in the art world and its market. April 2023 results certainly indicate one thing: that the blue chip art market continues to provide stellar results, strengthening its position as the top-performing collectible asset.

Here are the highlights from the month's auctions:

DAVID HOCKNEY

Perpetually productive and innovative, the David Hockney market continues to reflect the Modern British Master’s monumental reputation. Of all the artists explored in our Modern British Prints Report, Hockney certainly delivers as one of the most significant artist markets of the Post-War & Contemporary period. At Bonhams (London) Hot Off The Press auction (19/04/2023), Hockney’s The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 - 6 May 2011 was the star lot.

One of Hockney’s technologically inventive iPad drawings, the digital print depicts an endless recess of wild flowers and weeds in an untouched landscape. The Arrival Of Spring series has been one of Hockney’s most popular in recent years, continually fetching high results at auction and private sale alike. Despite its presale estimate of £100,000 - £150,000, the flourishing iPad landscape realised £277,500. Crowned as the top lot of the entire sale, the work smashed its high estimate and speaks to the popularity of Hockney’s work past and present.

A complete set of 18 prints, inspired by Pablo Picasso's iconography.Image © Christie's / The Blue Guitar © David Hockney 1976-1977

Likewise, complete sets of Hockney prints also performed phenomenally this month. At Christie’s (New York) The Sale of the Century: An Important Corporate Collection of Prints and Multiples (18/04/2023 and 19/04/2023), two complete sets of Hockney prints soared above their high presale estimates. A Rake’s Progress, a series inspired by William Hogarth’s 1735 engraving series of the same title, smashed its high estimate of $350,000, realising an impressive $541,800. This auction marked the third time the complete set of 16 etchings hit the market, with its last appearance in 2017, and this result broke its previous record of £15,625 (2017). Also at Christie’s, The Blue Guitar complete set of 28 etchings achieved its highest auction result. Realising $81,900, the set climbed far above its high presale estimate of $60,000.

Hockney was met with further success at Sotheby’s (New York) Prints & Multiples Including Jasper Johns from the Estate of Mark Lancaster (19/04/2023). At its auction debut, Will Come: 11 Works far exceeded its presale estimate of $2,000 - $4,000 and realised an impressive $38,100. The set of three prints, depicting three iterations of the same palm tree and sunset, attests to collectors’ interests across Hockney’s broad oeuvre.

Of course, no Hockney auction report would be complete without an ode to his iconic Swimming Pools. Also at Sotheby’s New York, My Pool And Terrace achieved its highest auction result. With a previous record of $23,093, the work realised $25,400 this month. Likewise, Lithograph Of Water Made Of Lines And Green Wash sat comfortably within its presale estimate at Christie’s (New York) Prints & Multiples auction (20/04/2023), realising $138,600.

Hockney has demonstrated exceptional results across the seven auctions that we have covered, which are a speakable testament to his talent, creativity and enduring appeal. Including Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, and Bonhams sales covered within this report, Hockney has netted a combined turnover of approximately $1.8 million (fees included) by 22 lots.

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A complete set of Warhol's Flowers screen prints, depicting the same composition of four flowers against a grass background in various colour ways.Flowers (complete set) © Andy Warhol 1970

ANDY WARHOL

Unsurprisingly, titan of Pop Art Andy Warhol continues to dazzle at auction this month. Warhol is, undisputedly, the crowned King of Pop - and his market performance is proof in point. Much like Hockney, Warhol’s complete print sets stole the show. At Christie’s (New York) The Sale of the Century, Warhol’s complete Flowers set was the top performing lot of the sale.

Though the series hammered just below estimate at $1.9million, the realised price - $2,349,000 - marks a record price for the garishly bold floral print series. At the same sale, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup 1 (complete set) also sat comfortably within its presale estimate of $800,000 - $1,200,000 - realising $1,008,000 and becoming the second top-performing lot of the sale.

Individual prints from Warhol’s Ads series also performed phenomenally at Sotheby’s (New York). Six works from the series sold at auction, and yielded a combined total of $711,200 (fees included). The highest selling of these works was the venerated Chanel, a highly anticipated lot which trumped its high estimate ($60,000) 3.6 times over: realising $215,900. Also fetching six figures were Paramount (realising $120,650) and Rebel Without A Cause (James Dean) (realising $114,300).

Complete print sets by the King of Pop are clearly having their moment in auction this month. At Christie’s (New York), Mao (complete set) was the top performing lot. Depicting the controversial celebrity of Mao Zedong, the print series attracted collectors who drove the lot to an immense realised price of $630,000.

Of course, Warhol’s auction success was not limited to complete sets. Also immensely popular was his depiction of the late Queen Elizabeth II from The Reigning Queens series, which also appeared at Christie’s (New York). Despite a presale estimate of $200,000 - $300,000, the royal portrait realised $327,600. Like all of Warhol’s printed portraits, this sale attests to the enduring relevance of Warhol’s celebrity snapshots.

With this series of April sales, Warhol works brought in a staggering $8.8 million (fees included) in combined turnover for a total of 59 works offered across auction houses. These are formidable figures for Warhol’s market and we can expect to see competitive numbers for the remainder of the auction calendar.

Browse Andy Warhol prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about Warhol print market growth in the Ultimate Print Market Report.

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Four screen prints in black with white ink, each depicting anatomical studies with the artist's annotations.Image © Phillips / Anterior View; Right Humerus; Female Pelvis; and Posterior View, from Anatomy © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

The inimitable Jean-Michel Basquiat performed exceptionally and consistently at auction this month. As was the trend across the board at auction this month, Basquiat’s print sets performed particularly well. At Phillips (New York) Editions & Works On Paper (20/04/2023), eight Basquiat works appeared at auction: every single one out performing its high estimate. At this sale alone, these eight works realised net $252,730. The top performing of these works was Anterior View; Right Humerus; Female Pelvis; and Posterior View, from Anatomy. The set of four anatomical studies - an integral theme in Basquiat’s symbolic oeuvre - far surpassed its high presale estimate of $35,000 and reached an impressive $60,960.

All of the works offered at Phillips were anatomical studies, and all performed valiantly. Femur, Vertical Median; male Pelvis; Lateral View; and Three Different Conditions Of Biceps Muscle, from Anatomy also reached far beyond its high estimate. The set of four screenprints realised $53,340 against a high estmate of $35,000 - speaking to the popularity of Basquiat’s anatomical studies and their enduring relevance in the history of art and culture.

Abstract portrait against a yellow background.Image © Sotheby's / Cabeza © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2004

At Sotheby’s (New York), Basquiat’s Cabeza - an individual screen print - also surpassed its presale estimates. Expected to hammer between $60,000 - $80,000, the figurative portrait realised a handsome $107,950. Basquiat’s recent success at auction only further establishes his market, and adds to the anticipation for the paintings that will be offered in Christie’s and Sotheby’s upcoming marquee sales.

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ROY LICHTENSTEIN

Icon of American Pop, Roy Lichtenstein, continues to yield astonishing results throughout 2023. Famed for his Ben Day dot technique and comic book-inspired works, Lichtenstein’s work has a quintessential Pop appeal that contributes to his impressive market performance. At Sotheby’s (New York), his Nude With Blue Hair was the top performing lot of the sale.

From his hailed Nudes series, the portrait was estimated between $450,000 - $650,000, and realised $762,000. This was the second highest price achieved at auction for this particular work, with the record set by Wright Auctions in 2021 for $768,999. The continued high value for the work attests to Lichtenstein’s prevalence in the American Pop market.

Across this month’s auctions, Lichtenstein’s celebrated comic book heroines stole the show. Alongside Nude With Blue Hair, his Nude Reading (also from the Nudes series) fell just short of it’s sale at Phillips (New York) the previous day, yet outperformed it’s selling price in 2018 at Christie’s (New York) for $137,500 (fees included) realising $203,200 and is the third highest performing sale for this work. Likewise, his legendary Crying Girl and Shipboard Girl both sold at Sotheby’s (New York), where they surpassed high presale estimates and realised $53,340 and $48,260, respectively. The enduring popularity of these portraits attests to the art historical relevance of Lichtenstein’s ladies, and the timeless nature of their aesthetic makeup.

Not only did Lictenstein’s most popular prints see success, but a number of his lesser known works were offered as well. Across all auction sales , Lichtenstein’s combined turnover calculates to $1.9 million+ (fees included) from a total of 21 lots.

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Against a white background, a repeated pattern of spots appear in formation across the composition. The dots vary in different colour combinations of lime green, blue and pink.Image © Sotheby's / Closed Discs © Bridget Riley 1970

BRIDGET RILEY

Bridget Riley’s optically dizzying works have an ageless allure, contributing to her recent market success. The British Op Artist’s market performance has been strong in recent years, showing year-on-year increases since 2018. Riley commanded impressive sales throughout marquee evening auctions in 2022 and this year to date, 23 works have hit the market. This month’s sales were no exception to Riley’s positive trajectory. At Sotheby’s (London) Contemporary Curated sale (18/04/2023), her Closed Discs - an acrylic on canvas original - was met with particular success.

The colourful work, distinguished by a methodical pattern of circles, surpassed its high presale estimate of £80,000 and realised £107,950. This sale marked the work’s third appearance at auction, after two unsold performances in 2021 and 2022. The successful sale of the work at Sotheby’s attests to the maturing nature of Riley’s market, and its hopeful future.

Riley’s prints and editions also fared well this month at auction. Particularly popular were works from her famed Fragment series, which forms a large majority of her top 10 performing works in our Modern British Prints Report. At Sotheby’s (New York), Fragment 5 made its first appearance on the market in 2023. With a presale estimate of $20,000 - $30,000, the monochrome screen print realised $35,560. Likewise, Fragment 2 appeared at Christie’s (New York), where it achieved its highest price in the last five-year period. Realising £37,800, the work sat comfortably within its $30,000 - $50,000 estimate. The continued admirable performance of the Fragment series attests to the enduring appeal of Op Art, and Riley’s celebrated position as its leading light.

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A black spray painted rat dressed in a cap and chain, holding a boombox. In the top right corner of the composition is a haphazardly spray painted exclamation mark in red.Image © Sotheby's / Exclamation Rat © Banksy 2003

BANKSY

After the 2020-2021 peak in the Banksy print market, the elusive Street Artist’s market has made a healthy correction. However, this does not overshadow Banksy’s continued popularity at auction. Most of the prints presented at auction this month were sold and sat comfortably within their presale estimates, with some far surpassing their high estimates. At Sotheby’s (London) Contemporary Curated, Banksy’s Exclamation Rat was the second top lot of the sale - despite selling at its low estimate at £279,400 (fees included).

One of Banksy’s infamous rat stencils, Exclamation Rat depicts a mischievous rodent with a cap and boombox, with a red exclamation mark haphazardly sprayed in the top right of the composition. As one of Banksy’s most recognisable and celebrated symbols, it is hardly surprising that the spray paint work surpassed its £220,000 low estimate.

At Sotheby’s (London) Banksy sale (20/04/2023), 18 lots sold. Four works reached over £100,000, proving the continued popularity of Banksy’s socially conscious and satirical works. The highest of these sales belongs to Flower Thrower Triptych (grey), which climbed above its high estimate of £180,000 and realising £190,500. Also performing particularly well was Nola (orange), from one of his top performing series, which realised £107,950.

The demand and popularity of his works are still evidence of a healthy and sustainable market. Top auction houses continue to dedicate solo sales to Banksy prints and blue-chip canvasses frequently appear in marquee sales. As it’s normal for artists' markets to experience fluctuations in the short-term, it’s unlikely that long-term value and artistic influence will be significantly impacted.

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TOM WESSELMANN

Vibrant and technically reductive, Tom Wesselmann’s flat Pop Art works have a compelling appeal. Most notoriously known for his abstracted nude portraits and smoker/mouth series, at Phillips (New York), Wesselmann sustained a surprising and impressive result with his Delphinium And Daisies (W.P.I. E19), which realised $184,150.

Depicting a tall vase of blue flowers, the alkyd oil and cut out steel relief work showcases the Pop Artist’s unique approach to natural forms. With a presale estimate of $40,000 - $60,000, the work realised three-times its high estimate. The successful sale speaks to Wesselmann’s predominance in the American Pop Art movement, and the timeless nature of the flora represented in this particular work.

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