MINIMALISM

[02.01.2006]

 

Strong demand on the US market has pushed prices for the centre-pieces of 1960s Minimal Art to record highs.

In the sixties some American artists adopted standard geometric forms as a way of excluding individuality from their works and in reaction to Abstract Expressionism. While the first manifestations of this new language, which ultimately aimed at extending the boundaries of art, were not well understood at the time, Minimal Art has since been recognised as a key “movement” in Art History. American buyers provide a very dynamic market for their artists with nearly 90% of Minimal Art works remaining within the United States and a low bought-in rate (approximately 15%). The UK, with roughly 10% of the Minimal Art auction market, is the next most dynamic market for this segment, while France arrives in third place with roughly 8%. The recognised “major” works from the 1960s generate very high prices, especially as there are so few of them on the market.

Five artists hold records over the USD 2 million mark with Donald JUDD and Frank STELLA both having reached above USD 4 million. Indeed, Donald Judd, one of the key theoreticians of the movement, holds the top record in the category since May 2002 when a piece he created in 1966 composed of six yellow Plexiglas units sold at Christie’s New York for USD 4,200,000 (EUR 4,609,080). His three-dimensional works (Plexiglas boxes or Piles) make up the bulk of his auction sales.
In 1960, Frank Stella caused a scandal when his Black paintings were exhibited at the MOMA in New-York. However, these same paintings are today the most sought-after and command the highest price on the segment. In November 1989 at Sotheby’s New-York, Tomlinson Court Park sold for USD 4,600,000 (EUR 4, 438,379), an exceptional price considering the work was created in 1959, the year in which Frank Stella began to punctuate the black surfaces of his paintings with canvas fibres. More recently, another major work from the same year, Bethlehem’s Hospital, sold beneath its low estimate (USD 5,000,000) for USD 3,900,000 (EUR 3,395,730) at Christie’s New York in May 2003).

Barnett NEWMAN, Ellsworth KELLY and Ad REINHARDT also generate good prices. Newman made monochromes entitled All over. His paintings were uniformly covered in a single shade of colour; but so few of his works are in circulation that in June 2004 a small oil-on-paper (17.2 x12.5 cm) completely overshot its high estimate (USD 7,000) by selling for USD 24,000 (EUR 19,925). Robert Ryman’s more “fundamental” work with square supports and essentially white textures and shades appears to be somewhat out of favour with the market currently. Indeed, Ryman’s price index has been falling constantly since 2002, although since Uncle Up in May 2002, we have not seen any of his major works on the market. Uncle Up was an accurately dated (1963) and well proportioned (189.2 x 189.2 cm) that sold for USD 1,800,000 (EUR 1,994,580), the artists top record.
Ellsworth Kelly, on the other hand, has seen his price index constantly rising over the last three years. The paintings and drawings of Agnes Martin are equally buoyant on the market since the artist’s death in 2004 and a substantial price contraction in 2003.