Will Richter reach $50 million in March?


With spectacular proportions, spanning four meters in width, Abstraktes Bild, 1986, is one of Gerhard RICHTER’s first large-scale abstractions. The work will be headlining Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London on 1 March 2023.

As its estimate has not been disclosed on Sotheby’s website, we ask: how much could this masterpiece of rare size and chromatic intensity, by Germany’s most popular and highly-valued contemporary artist, be worth? Since the sale in 2015 of a similar abstract work, also dated 1986, but ‘only’ three meters wide, Richter’s current auction record stands at $46.3 million (Abstraktes bild). Fifteen years earlier, in 1999, that same painting sold for just $607,500, more than $45 million less, so its 2015 result was an extraordinary illustration of the rise in value of Richter’s work during the first 15 years of this century. Indeed, one may wonder if that spectacular value surge – which apparently destabilized the artist himself at the time – was ‘disproportionate’, or was it a fair indication of the real value of Richter’s best works today? In any case, the monumental work proposed by Sotheby’s on 1 March will have to reach at least $50 million to ‘consolidate’ Richter’s auction record of 2015.

Evolution of Gerhard Richter’s price index at auction (Copyright Artprice.com)

On the auction market

Richter is not only the most valued living German artist on the auction market, he is also the world’s top selling living artist on the global market with an auction turnover total exceeding $225 million in 2022.

To give an idea of the weight of his market, consider that this total represents 60% of Germany’s total annual art auction turnover (although in reality only 6% of his annual turnover was actually hammered in Germany, the best works being mainly offered in New York).

A veritable art market heavyweight, in 2022, Richter posted a better market performance than Jean-Michel Basquiat and his works – abstract paintings sold in New York but also in Hong Kong – generated four of the world’s 100 best results during 2022. One of these, his Abstraktes Bild (1990), reached $25.5 million in Hong Kong, the city’s third best art auction result of the year.


Geography of Richter’s 2022 Auction Turnover (Copyright Artprice.com)

Upcoming exhibitions

Two major exhibitions are scheduled for 2023. The first will take place in New York, at the David Zwirner gallery, now representing the famous German artist. This will be his first solo exhibition at Zwirner’s New York gallery under the new alliance. Zwirner has championed Richter in the past, with an exhibition of his prints and multiples in 1994 (during the gallery’s first twelve months), and then in 2000 with Gerhard Richter: Early Paintings, and in 2004 with Gerhard Richter: Landscapes. More recently, American collectors have been able to discover Richter paintings via the highly respected Marian Goodman gallery (Paris, London, Los Angeles). Today, Richter’s collaboration with Zwirner enhances the artist’s exposure to Asia since Zwirner has branches in New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong.

In April 2023 Richter’s work will be the subject of a major exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin lasting three years! The museum will exhibit all of the works in the donation of 100 works on permanent loan from the Gerhard Richter Kunststiftung. It will be the first time these works will all be shown together. The exhibition promises to trace the different phases of Richter’s career, through the Squatters’ House (1989), the 6 Standing Panes (2002) and many works from Richter’s remarkable series of painted photographs. The central œuvre of this exhibition is his series Birkenau (2014). Composed of four large-format abstract paintings, Birkenau is the result of Richter’s long and profound reflection on the Holocaust and on ways of representing it. The works are based on four photographs taken in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.