The last five years in the art market have provided a counterpoint to the axiom that “a tree doesn’t grow to the sky.” The dynamic growth in contemporary art can be attributed to a variety of factors: acceptance of blue-chip art as a mainstream investment, low-interest rates, and the ever-expanding reach of auction houses and art fairs.
Another recent development has been the expansion of online sales and art platforms. Art collectors have grown comfortable with acquiring expensive prints and paintings over the internet. The bottom line has been the democratisation of the art market; it’s never been easier to put together high-quality art collections.
Over the last five years, the art market experienced tremendous growth in all categories: emerging artists, NFTs, and blue-chip painters. Yet, Pop art and the legacy of artists it spawned during the 1980s, remains a market favourite. One reason why is that many of the original practitioners have passed away — which serves as a reminder of how finite their production was.
In 2022, a watershed moment for the art world and Pop market occurred in May at Christie’s, with the sale of Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn — for US$195 million (the pre-sale estimate was US$200-$300 million). The fact that some veteran market observers expressed disappointment in the price speaks volumes about how far the art market has come.
The sale also brought the demand for “Marilyn” prints into high relief. This iconic series remains the acme of the Warhol print market. Yet, as expensive as they’ve become, you sense there’s still room for price growth.
Pop Art and Warhol expert Richard Polsky has offered some advice to collectors currently looking in this market:
"One facet of the Andy Warhol print market, which has lagged behind the price curve, are his “Self-Portraits.” The silver offset lithograph, Self-Portrait (1966), featuring his so-called “Mum Voyeur” pose, is one of the most overlooked prints of his career. Despite its large edition size of 300, it’s hard to find one in good condition (and worth paying a premium for).
A later “Self-Portrait” from the “Myths” series, with Andy cast in the role of the Shadow, is due to be re-evaluated (upward) by the market."
So far, 2022 has been relatively quiet for major Roy Lichtenstein paintings coming to market. Sotheby’s saw the sale of Mirror #9 from the famed Macklowe Collection, for US$6.6 million, this past May.
This brings to mind the prints from this series — which are both evocative and undervalued. The biggest news this year has been the donation of Roy Lichtenstein’s studio, by his widow Dorothy, to the Whitney Museum.
The art world and press was also titillated by the offering of Lichtenstein’s Greenwich Village townhouse in New York (owned by his son Mitchell) for US$30 million.
"Almost overlooked, was the sale of the Lichtenstein canvas, Head with Braids (1979), for US$2.3 million at Sotheby’s in May. This painting was part of the artist’s “American Indian” series. Personally, I’ve always felt the prints associated with this body of work represent excellent value for collectors new to Lichtenstein’s art," says Polsky.
In 2022, the Jean-Michel Basquiat market scored one of its biggest successes with the sale of the sixteen-foot-long behemoth, Untitled (1982) for US$85 million at Phillips. Interestingly, it was sold by Yusaku Maezawa, who paid US$57.3 million for it in 2016. Mr. Maezawa is the same gentleman who paid a record US$110.5 million for the now-famous Basquiat blue skull painting.
The other noteworthy event in the Basquiat market was the opening of the show, Basquiat: King Pleasure. This exhibition was assembled by Basquiat’s family, specifically his two sisters, Lisane and Jeanine. It included over 200 objects and works of art (many never seen before) and was accompanied by an outstanding catalogue.
Predictably, the show has received huge amounts of press, which you assume has translated into additional interest in the artist’s life and work.
During Basquiat’s short but prolific career, he produced very few prints. This has created steady interest in the two sets of posthumous “Estate” serigraphs released by the family.
Since all eight individual graphics are derived from Basquiat’s canvases, buyers often speak of how they capture the spirit of the artist.
Keith Haring remains arguably the most undervalued of all major artists. His auction record is a relatively modest US$6.5 million for Untitled (1982), at Sotheby’s New York (2017).
Given Haring’s influence on the art of the 1980s, you sense that the next significant picture to be offered for sale will set a new record — likely to be in the low eight figures. Also, the artist’s “Subway Drawings” have become increasingly sought after. Assuming you can verify their authenticity, this group of works offers a lot of upside for the buyer.
As for Keith Haring’s graphics, demand continues to hum along for his top prints — especially the “Andy Mouse” series (signed by Haring and Andy Warhol) and the glorious “Fertility Series.” Keith Haring was a natural printmaker, whose uncanny ability to create drawings with a single uninterrupted line, served him well when he turned his hand to graphics.
When it comes to the Haring market in 2022, Polsky has commented, "I continue to recommend that collectors acquire his better black and white prints — which combine strong visual appeal with a sense of humour (something too often overlooked in the art market)."
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