Considered one of the last great artists of his generation, Antoni Tàpies died aged 88 on 6 February 2012. Ahead of his time, Tàpies eschewed traditional painting materials and championed the use of all sorts of other materials long before arte povera became a fashionable critical notion. He did in fact invent a new form of material expression.
Born in Barcelona in 1923 to a cultivated bourgeois family, Antoni TAPIES was a self-taught artist. In his teen years, after a serious lung infection involving two years of convalescence, he became interested in art, philosophy, far-Eastern thought and music. In art, he started by copying LEONARDO DA VINCI, Vincent VAN GOGH and Pablo PICASSO. Having been close to death, for the rest of his days he was acutely aware of life’s fragility and having witnessed and been profoundly affected by the Spanish Civil War and its atrocities, Tàpies decided to devote himself entirely to artistic creation.
Antoni Tàpies resisted the dictates of classical art; for him, a painting was not a window – as suggested by Renaissance ideals – but rather a wall. Tàpies used these “walls” to protest, depicting crosses that resembled the “t” in his name but also evoking the cemetery that Spain had become.
Tàpies / Rauschenberg / Barceló
The subject of numerous retrospectives, the work of Antoni Tàpies has been exhibited in many of the world’s major museums (MoMa New York, MAM Paris, Jeu de Paume, Museo Reina Sofia, etc). In 1984, he created the foundation that carries his name. During his artistic career, he received seven international distinctions including one of the most prestigious: The Golden Lion of Venice in 1993.
However, despite the impeccable international artistic stature of Antoni Tàpies, his work has not been associated with big prices or auction records on the secondary market. Indeed, the figures for recent years show a particularly flat trajectory: His last auction record was set at Christie's of London in 2010 when his Blanc amb signe vermellos fetched $850,000 ($1.3m) beating his previous record (2007) for his Azul No LXIX that sold for £650,000 ($1.29m), also at Christie's London. Moreover, between 1989 and 2007, Tàpies’ work did not generate a single new auction record.
Another artist from the same generation also using non-conventional materials was Robert RAUSCHENBERG. However, between 1997 and 2010, 90% of Rauschenberg’s works fetched less than $41,000 compared with just $20,500 for Antoni Tàpies. Moreover, Rauschenberg generated records in millions of dollars such as his all-time record of $13 million at Sotheby's New York in 2010 for his Overdrive. The market’s preference for Rauschenberg probably has two fundamental reasons: Firstly he was American and secondly, in art history terms, he is considered the father of the ultra-popular Pop Art movement.
Another interesting comparison is between Tàpies and the Contemporary artist and compatriot Miquel BARCELO who has a substantially better price record with close to 45% of his lots fetching less than $20,000 and nearly 30% of his works selling for more than $100,000. Although the volume of Antoni Tàpies’ work is higher (618 lots in 2011 vs. 65 for Barceló), he appears in 236th place in the global ranking of artists by auction revenue compared with 98th place for Barceló.
A major artist at very affordable prices
Even in 2011, only 22 of his works fetched more than €50,000, and his best result of the year was $420,000 for Negro con dos rombos at Sotheby's London (10 February 2011). Indeed, a large number of quality works by the artist are regularly bought in because collectors are very selective and prefer his paintings from the 50s and 60s. Today, one can easily acquire an important Tàpies painting for between $20,000 and $30,000 as indeed was the case in June 2011 for X on varnish qui fetched $25,880 at Lempertz (Cologne).
Apart from paintings, the Tàpies market consists of monotypes (a type of printing process that produces only one copy). Again, these works only rarely fetch more than $15,000. There are also numerous multiples, such as original lithographs, which sell for several hundred dollars.
Antoni Tàpies is an affordable “major”, but the increasing rarity of his works and his inestimable role in the history of art are bound to lead to an increase in the value of his works over the coming years.