Germany

How Gerhard Richter Became The Top-Selling Living Artist

Posted March 9th, 2012

Art Market, Contemporary Art, Germany


Last year at auction, German painter Gerhard Richter outsold Monet, Giacometti and Rothko—combined. The Wall Street Journal did an interesting case study of an artist’s rise. Will it last?

“In the early 1980s, German artist Gerhard Richter painted 24 views of flickering white candles, and not a single one sold. When one of those “Candle” canvases came up at Christie’s in London this past fall, it sold for $16.5 million.
The artist’s ascent is being driven by market demands as much as curatorial merit: Auction houses and museums, eager for new masters to canonize, are showcasing Mr. Richter’s works around the world at an ever-increasing clip. An influx of international collectors and dealers are also seizing the moment to buy or sell his pieces at a profit—including art-world tastemakers such as Russian industrialist Roman Abramovich, French luxury-goods executive Bernard Arnault, dealer Larry Gagosian, Taiwanese electronics mogul Pierre Chen and New York hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen. ”

Few people can pinpoint the moment when an artist becomes iconic in the way of Pablo Picasso or Andy Warhol, but right now the art world is trying to anoint Mr. Richter. Last year, his works sold at auction for a total of $200 million, according to auction tracker Artnet—more than any other living artist and topping last year’s auction totals for Claude Monet, Alberto Giacometti and Mark Rothko combined. At Mr. Richter’s gallery in New York, the waiting list for one of his new works, which can sell for $3 million apiece, is several dozen names long.

In November at Sotheby’s, London collector Lily Safra paid $20.8 million for Mr. Richter’s 1997 eggplant-colored “Abstract Painting,” an auction record for the artist. Other artists have sold individual works at higher prices—Jeff Koons, for example—but in terms of volume at auction, Mr. Richter currently tops the market.

Mr. Richter’s work is uniquely suited to the tastes of the current art market. Like Picasso, he paints in a number of different styles—from rainbow-hued abstracts to poignant family portraits—giving collectors plenty of choice. Like Warhol, he is prolific, which ensures a steady volume of his works in the marketplace—yet enough of his works are in museum collections that he has avoided a glut. And ever since the deaths last year of painters Cy Twombly and Lucian Freud, collectors searching for another senior statesman have started giving his work a closer look.”

Read on at The Wall Street Journal.

Image above: “Betty”, Öl auf Holz Museum Ludwig, Köln;ln/Privatsammlung © Gerhard Richter 2012