Essl sales: accretion of over 100% per year!



In many respects Contemporary art has become a new Eldorado for investors wealthy and a source of trophy acquisitions for wealthy collectors around the globe. In less than 20 years the values of certain contemporary artworks have increased by multiples of 5 to 40 times. Some examples of this kind of inflation were visible at the recent “Essl” sale in London.

Christie’s Essl sale on October 13, 2014 – just before the London Frieze Art Fair (October 15-18) – had something of an Off about it, with around forty works on offer, all perfectly commensurate with the quality of the works at the fair. Those who do not know the breadth and range of Agnès and Karlheinz Essl’s art collection have probably not visited their museum on the edge of the Klosterneuburg forest near Vienna. The museum houses the largest private collection of Modern, Post-War and Contemporary art with no less than 7,000 works. Following an unsuccessful business expansion by Karlheinz Essl’s company BauMax, the couple is selling off this formidable collection in order to save several thousand jobs.

The first leg of the Christie’s Essl sale presented a superb catalogue including works by German artists Gerhard RICHTER, Sigmar POLKE, Georg BASELITZ and Martin KIPPENBERGER alongside works by major international artists like Cindy SHERMAN, Frank STELLA, Louise BOURGEOIS and Morris LOUIS. The sale’s result was unprecedented: 91% of the 43 lots found buyers and it generated £46,861,500 (£75,306,431 including fees). Some works fetched between two and five times their pre-sale estimates.
Among the sale’s major attractions were five major works by Sigmar Polke that all fetched astonishing results. Indeed 2014 has been an excellent year for Polke both on the secondary market and on the museum circuit. After his death in 2010, a large itinerant retrospective comprising 250 works was launched across Europe and the United States. Starting in Grenoble (France), the exhibition was transferred to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is currently at the Tate Modern in London. It will finish at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne (March 14 – July 5, 2015). The five Polke works offered by Christie’s just before the opening of the London leg of the Polke retrospective had all been to auction before. Below are the comparative results these 5 works produced at their previous sales and at the Christie’s sale on October 13, 2014:

Untitled (Summer pictures I-IV) painted in 1982 accreted from £361,860 in 1998 to £3.5m. i.e. an increase of 867% in 16 years. Arcimi Boldi painted in 1984 sold for £82,848 in 2000 and then for £900,000 on October 13, 2014, i.e. + 986% in 14 years. Für den Dritten Stand bleiden nur noch die Krümel (For the third rank, there are only crumbs) fetched £235,000 in 2003 and then 3.8m last week, i.e. +1,517% in 11 years. Liebespaar (Lovers) painted in 1988 was acquired for £72,000 in 1995 and then for £1.45m at the Christie’s sale last week: i.e. + 1,914% in less than 20 years. Et enfin, Indianer mit Adler (Indian with eagle) painted in 1975 went under the hammer for £106,128 in 1997 followed by £4.5m: i.e. + 4,140% in 17 years!

Polke’s auction record is $8.15m generated by Sotheby’s in 2011 just after his death. The work in question was Dschungel (Jungle). In May 2014, one of his works generated $7.5m, confirming a high level of demand and the maintenance of his prices (Familie II, Christie’s New York, May 13, 2014). Polke’s price index is rising fast and his signature is now clearly established at the ultra-high end of the Contemporary art market alongside Gerhard Richter, one of whose paintings generated a value accretion just as dynamic as Polke’s: his Wolken (Fenster) (Clouds (Window)), painted in 1970, fetched its low estimate of £5.5m ($8,844,000) at the October 13 sale after selling for $500,000 in 1997.

Among the other masterpieces at the Essl sale, there were works by Rosemarie TROCKEL, Lucio FONTANA, Pierre SOULAGES, Frank STELLA and Morris LOUIS all of which posted annual gains of over 100% compared to their previous auction appearance.