​Market interested in Abstract art…


Strong demand for Soulages, a new record for Riopelle, Hartung presented at Art Basel and soon in New York… the top 20th century abstract painters are attracting increasing attention.

The market for major abstract artists from the 2nd half of the 20th century is currently one of the most dynamic and effervescent segments of the art market. After a sharp rise in the price of the ultra-contemporary segment over the last decade, dealers and collectors appear to be refocusing on this essential period in art history, and the prices are following the movement.

Jean-Paul RIOPELLE (1923-2002) has signed a massive new record with his a large canvas, Vent du nord (nearly 2 metres across), ideally dated from 1952/1953 that was expected to fetch about a million dollars on 24 May at Heffel Fine Art in Toronto. However, the bidding dumbfounded the forecasts by soaring to beyond $4 million ($5.4 million incl. fees). This new record adds no less than $3 million to his previous record (2012 at Christie’s in Paris) and represents the second most expensive Canadian work ever sold at auction (behind Lawren Harris’s Mountain Forms which fetched $8.3 million in November 2016 at Heffel). This latest result marks a completely new price level for the most internationally recognised Canadian painter. It also takes Riopelle higher than France’s abstract superstar, Pierre SOULAGES, whose auction record has stood at $6.7 million since 2013 when Sotheby’s London sold his Peinture, 21 novembre 1959.

Recall that Soulagesthe master of “ultra-black” – has one of the most enviable track records to date with a price index up 484% since 2000 ($100 invested in 2000 would be worth an average of $584 today…). At 97, Pierre Soulages is France’s most expensive living artist. One of the first artists to start producing monochromes, Soulages made his first black paintings in the late 1940s, attracting the attention of James Johnson Sweeney, curator at the MoMA from 1935 to 1946 and the Guggenheim in New York from 1952 to 1960. Today, his works are hanging in the world’s largest museums and his market could well extend to the East after gallery-owner Emmanuel Perrotin opens his new gallery in Tokyo with works by Soulages on 7 June (the exhibition will continue until 19 August 2017). Having already opened two showrooms in the region (Hong Kong in 2012 and another in Seoul in 2016) Perrotin’s new gallery in Tokyo will strengthen their strategic presence in Asia, and Soulages, who enjoys a solid global reputation, has a special standing in Japan since the first review to take an interest in his work in the early 1950s was a Japanese calligraphy journal. Soulages was also the subject of a major retrospective in Tokyo in 1983 at the Seibu Museum.

As of a couple of weeks ago, the same French gallery officially represents the estate of Hans HARTUNG (1904-1989). A campaign to revive interest in Hartung among major collectors and institutions will start next month at the art world’s most important commercial rendezvous, Art Basel, where the Perrotin gallery will be presenting his work (15 – 18 June). This should boost Hartung’s market which has lacked stimulusat the global level for some time, although three of his works have fetched beyond a million dollars in France since 2010. In the last decade, Hartung’s expressive abstract painting has enjoyed a retrospective at the Maeght foundation (2008) and another organized by the Helen and Edouard Leclerc fund in Landerneau (11 December 2016 to 17 April 2017). In 2018, Emmanuel Perrotin is planning another show of his work in New York with a firm commitment to promoting the importance of Hartung’s work on the American continent.

Other recent records in the Abstract market have also contributed to the segment’s revaluation. These include $4.7 million for Simon HANTAÏ’s MA4 (Mariale) in December 2016 at Sotheby’s Paris, and $11.8 million for the Franco-Chinese CHU Teh-Chun (1920 to 2014) in November 2016 at Christie’s in Hong Kong (Vertige neigeux). Other French Abstract artists who deserve rediscovery include Olivier DEBRÉ (1920-1999) who rarely passes the $100,000 threshold and Jean MIOTTE (1926-2016) who died in 2016 and whose superb gestural paintings still change hands for less than $10,000 at auctions.