Focus on Video art between June 2010 and May 2012



Every second Friday, Artprice provides an auction results ranking. This week our focus is on video art and the ten best auction results in this segment between June 2010 and May 2012.

Somewhat side-lined from other artistic media, video art remains the market’s poor relation. With no specialised auction sales and no special departments within the auction houses for video (such as those for photography), video’s reproducibility and its immateriality detract from its collectability. Still struggling to find its place on the art market, only a small number of collectors dare to overlook the constraints related to the presentation, the preservation, the original and the reproduction of videos.

A medium used in the arts fields since the 1960s, video grew thanks to the greater availability of portable cameras and editing equipment in the 80s. Its future prospects are undoubtedly more sensitive to technological development than other media. Advances in these areas regularly renew its possibilities, but also make many works obsolete. An “effects” art form par excellence, video is fast-changing with new methods of production and dissemination, as well as new vogues that appear thanks to interactivity with viewers, « video-holograms », « VJs », collaborative works via internet, etc.

Since our last Top 10 best all-time video-art auction results ranking published by Artprice in June 2010, we note the presence of a greater diversity of artists. Indeed, only three artists (Nam June PAIK, Bill VIOLA and Mike KELLEY) shared That Top 10. However, with new records recorded since then, William KENTRIDGE and Bruce NAUMAN have joined the all-time ranking at third and seventh place respectively. But, although the list of artists is growing, crossing the $200,000 threshold is still an isolated incident for this medium. Because beyond that threshold, the market is still rewarding the historical legitimacy of works whose youngest author, William Kentridge, is already approaching sixty. Ignoring the records set before June 2010, we look at the artists who have signed the best results over the past two years.

Top 10 : the ten best auction results for video art between June 2010 and May 2012

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 William KENTRIDGE $500 000 Preparing the flute (2005) 05/11/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
2 Nam June PAIK $449 750 Tv is Kitsch (1996) 05/28/2011 (United Asian Auctioneers HONG KONG)
3 Bruce NAUMAN $320 000 Good Boy Bad Boy (1985) 11/08/2011 (Christie’s NY)
4 Bill VIOLA $241 650 Bassin of Tears (2005) 02/17/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Co LONDON)
5 Bill VIOLA $200 000 Union (2000) 11/08/2010 (Phillips de Pury & Co NY)
6 QIU Zhijie $192 750 Writing the orchid pavilion… 05/29/2011 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
7 Charles RAY $170 000 Fashions (1996) 11/09/2011 (Christie’s NY)
8 William KENTRIDGE $160 000 Learning the Flute (2003) 11/08/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Co NY)
9 Nam June PAIK $75 000 Digital Buddha (1991) 11/09/2011 (Christie’s NY)
10 Tony OURSLER $74 175 Multicoloured MPD (25 Head) 02/18/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Co LONDON)

The first place reveals the enchanted world of William Kentridge with his record result at $500,000 for the work Preparing the Flute. A Model of a proscenium, Preparing the Flute stages scenes from Mozart’s famous Magic Flute. He created his first animation in 1989 with a technique that is characteristic of his work: charcoal drawings which, unlike the traditional technique, follow one another on the same sheet of paper. The final image retains the traces of these combos. Kentridge’s seminal work Preparing the Flute brings together all the magic of the artist’s fascinating elementary illusionist tricks. Holder of the third best result for any art-video ever made, his sales revenue is growing rapidly: from $720,000 to over $1.7m between 2009 and 2011. Even if video is not his primary medium on the secondary market (only 5 compared with 125 drawings), his installations have changed hands since 2005 at above $150,000, while his simple VHSs have gone for beyond $20,000.

This video Top would not be one without his great precursor, Nam June Paik, who holds the second and ninth place with results of $449,750 for Tv is Kitsch and $75,000 for Digital Budha. Since 1959, with his Magnet TV, Nam June Paik began experimenting with distortions of the video image by placing magnets around the CRT. Known and collected worldwide, he has created many installations that are both playful and spectacular. The bulk of his work consists of sculptures of assembled televisions broadcasting excerpts of video montages. His price index is however not at the top of its form and has declined 60% since 2010. With an increasing unsold rate (12%) and a substantial fall in the number of lots offered for sale (49 in 2011 versus 81 in 2010), the number of transactions on his work decreased 53% between 2010 and 2011. It seems that market interest and collectors are increasingly turning towards new signatures.

A regular record breaker, Bruce Nauman did not join the Top 10 auction results for video until 8 November 2011 when his Good Boy, Bad Boy fetched $320,000 giving him 7th place in the all-time Top 10. An excellent performance for this video, one edition of which had sold in 2007 for $210,000, i.e. $110,000 less (Christie’s New York, 17 May). Author of eight auction results above the million-dollar line (mainly for his neon installations and sculptures in wax), the market has sometimes tended to forget that Bruce Nauman has also contributed significantly to the evolution of video. Good Boy Bad Boy is an iconic work in which the artist explores human relationships and aggression in society.

The high public profile enjoyed by Bill Viola is has much to do with his strong auction performances since entering the auction world in 2002 when his Incrémentation already fetched $61,000 (Christie’s New York, 27 June 2002). A big favourite of institutions, Bill Viola has proved that video art can reach very high prices when recognised video artists are presented at auction. Of the only 43 lots presented for sale over 10 years, 23 sold beyond $60,000. With a record $613,000 for Eternal Return (Phillips de Pury & Company London, 14 October 2006), Bill Viola signed the best-ever result for a video. Indeed, he has confirmed his leading position with two good results of $200,000 and more than $240,000, taking fourth and fifth place in this ranking. Spiritual, intimate, existential, Bill Viola’s videos explore human nature and are unique experiences where the viewer’s perception is essential. Contrary to Nam June Paik, he does not distort images but rather works to create disturbingly realistic images.

The artist QIU Zhijie made a sensational debut at sixth position of this Top by signing his best result with a video entitled Writing the orchid pavilion preface one thousand times that fetched more than $192,000 (Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 May 2011). Writing the orchid pavilion preface one thousand times is a video of a performance in which the artist copied the 324 characters of the manuscript by Wang Xizhi 1000 times on a single sheet of paper (WANG Xizhi is considered an example of Chinese calligraphy). By this physical act of endurance, Qiu Zhijie wished to highlight Chinese heritage, culture and tradition.

Less well-known internationally than was his namesake musician Charles RAY is best known in his native United States, where he generates the bulk of his auction sales. Primarily a sculptor, he is the author of three auction results above the million-dollar line with a peak at $2.7 million for his Male Mannequin (a window mannequin on which the artist glued a mold of his genitals). Using window mannequins in his sculptures from the 1990s, Ray Charles has concentrated during this period on the relationship between these objects and humans. His Fashions video is a living and disturbing painting that found a buyer for $170,000 and gave Charles Ray 7th place in this Top.

Tony OURSLER creates a distinctly unmistakable universe that uses projections, images or fragments of bodies, on suspended spheres or dolls lying on the ground. At first glance his monsters are fun, but beyond that, they question the violence of our relations with the media, drugs, mental illness, compulsive consumerism … in short… all the ills of contemporary society. Tony Oursler expresses the impact of these factors on man physically, emotionally and socially. Considered the father of video sculpture, Tony Oursler has had an impact on the video art field by taking it out of its frame and integrating it dynamically into objects. However his secondary market is not very dynamic. Although his auction debut in 1998 looked promising at $23,000 (Instant Suckling, Christie’s New York), in 14 years the bulk of his sales have concerned installations that fetched between $10,000 and $40,000 and only 9 works have exceeded this threshold. However, his Multicouloured MPD (25 head) MPD (25 head), an installation consisting of 25 spherical screens, fetched one of his best auction results at more than $74,000 giving him 10th place in this Top.

While the development of this market is still showing strong resistance, there are nevertheless a number of counter-examples and alternatives. At the dawn of the era of internet and social networks, video and interactive works have a bright future … and the dematerialization of the artwork can contribute to revolutionizing the economics of tomorrow’s art world.