Prices soar for Italian artists



Christie’s is preparing a sale of Modern and Contemporary Art in Milan featuring 88 lots that reflect a number of upward price trends for a selection of Italian artists.

In recent years, a number of forgotten Contemporary Italian artists have resurfaced in London, Paris and Milan. This is essentially because post-war Italian art had a major influence on the European and American avant-garde with its “clean sweep” logic and its uncompromising affirmation of the monochrome. Initially, Yves KLEIN’s pure pigment monochromes influenced Piero MANZONI (who discovered the French artist’s work in 1957 at the Apollinaire Gallery of Milan) and Lucio FONTANA, the two most widely known Italian Contemporary artists on the international art market and among the most expensive of their generation. In the late 80s, while Piero Manzoni’s monochromes fetched between $40,000 and $80,000 on the secondary market and some of Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale blithely crossed the $100,000 threshold, Agostino BONALUMI’s modulated surface monochromes (1935-2013) were worth less than $10,000. This huge gap was due to the fact that Manzoni and Fontana managed to elicit international demand and penetrate the London auction market while Bonalumi’s market remained very local despite being part of the same movement experimenting with monochromes. Indeed Bonalumi was a regular associate of Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Enrico CASTELLANI and used a variety of techniques to shape the surface he was painting (pulled back the canvas, crumpled it, fixed pieces of wood and metal behind the canvas to create raised areas) and was awarded a personal exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1970. However, the international market had already elected its heroes and it was a long time before other signatures emerged.

Today, the market pays big money for the most sought-after works by Fontana or Manzoni. The best exceed $10 million and both artists have peaked at over $20 million: Fontana in November 2013 (Concetto Spaciale, La Fine Dio, $20.8m incl. fees at Christie’s New York) and Manzoni in October 2014 (Manzoni, Achrome $20.2m incl. fees at Sotheby’s London). Over the past decade their prices have soared: + 150% for Manzoni and + 260% for Fontana.
The spin from this upward trend started to affect other less famous representatives of the Italian avant-garde: Enrico Castellani – a member of the ZERO network with Piero Manzoni and founder of the magazine Azimuth – again doubled his record last year, from $2.4m to $5.2m (new record for Superficie Bianca which fetched the equivalent of $6 million at Sotheby’s in London on October 17, 2014). The same day, Sotheby’s also set new records for Agostino Bonalumi (whose Bianco sold for the equivalent of a million dollars incl. fees) and Turi SIMETI (whose Bianco fetched $311,000 incl. fees) … And the trend seems to be progressing: in February 2015, Paolo SCHEGGI (1940-1971) generated his first 7-digit result at a London Christie’s sale. With the hammer falling at the equivalent of $1.4m, the value increase was an impressive three times the high estimate (Intersuperficie curva bianca, $1.79m incl. fees).

The upcoming Christie’s Milan sale (April 28 and 29, 2015) will include works by all these artists as well as several other major Italian favorites like Aligherro Boetti and Michelangelo Pistoletto. The sale will also test the markets for Giulio PAOLINI, Fausto MELOTTI and Gianfranco BARUCHELLO, all crowned with new auction records in 2015. Sotheby’s Milan sale is programmed for a month later, on May 21 and 21, 2015.