Although David Hockney has been one of the world’s most famous and most museum-present Contemporary artists for several decades, his auction results have been relatively modest with only a handful of 7-digit results in the 1990s. However the situation is now changing and Hockney’s recent new record at Sotheby’s is a good reason to review the market’s relationship with the almost octogenarian artist, whose creativity is still extraordinarily fresh.
On 17 November 2016, Sotheby’s New York sold a painting by David HOCKNEY for nearly $12 million ($11.7 million including fees). The painting in question, « Woldgate Woods, 24, 25, and 26 October 2006 » (2006), was painted in four days on six canvases forming an ensemble over three meters wide and it sold within its estimated price range. The surprise was therefore not so much the end result as the substantial price inflation currently affecting the artist’s work; his previous auction record was several few million less (close to $8 million at Christie’s New York in May 2009 for a mid-60s painting entitled Beverly Hills Housewife). The Woldgate Woods work was one of the masterpieces exhibited at the Royal Academy’s 2012 Hockney retrospective in London which attracted over 600,000 visitors before moving to Bilbao’s Guggenheim in the summer and then Cologne’s Ludwig Museum in late 2012 – early 2013 where its success continued.
According to Gregory Billault, director of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, David Hockney is just as much a pillar of British Post-War art as Francis BACON and Lucian FREUD whose all-time auction records stand at $142.4 million (Three Studies of Lucian Freud) and $56.1 million (Benefits Supervisor Resting) respectively. This opinion, from an important art market professional, suggests Hockney’s prices could be very substantially under-rated and the market’s appreciation of this potential is already being felt with another painting, The Gate (2000), fetching $6.97 million in mid-November at Phillips in New York (in addition to the aforementioned new record), taking third place on the artist’s auction podium. In 2016 Hockney’s works have generated over $34.6 million in auction turnover compared with $15.2 million the previous year (which was already a very good year). So this year has been Hockney’s best-ever year on the secondary market.
And… judging by the schedule, the enthusiasm looks very unlikely to lose momentum in the coming months with a major retrospective at the Tate Britain in London in the first half 2017 (9 February – 29 May 2017). Organized in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (which will both host the show after London) the exhibition will bring together some 150 works covering 60 years of an artistic career that has always open to innovation. Born in in Bradford, Yorkshire, on 9 July 1937, Hockney will soon be celebrating his 80th birthday. But neither his age nor his reputation have dampened his innovative creativity. Hockney likes to experiment and try new techniques, embracing digital technology for example in his recent works on ipad (a series initiated in 2010). Already over-70, the old dandy was thus one of the first artists to use the tablet, creating works of Pop Realism using an admittedly limited by nevertheless luminous and radical palette of colours in works that have been seen at several major Contemporary art fairs around the world, although they are still absent from the auction market.
In addition, 2017 will see Hockney deliver a Royal order for a stained glass window for the north transept of Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 65th year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. The artist has promised a landscape full of flowers, and we can already imagine the bright colours that Hockney’s California-inspired eye will produce… For if there is one thing in common between David Hockney and the Queen of England, it’s that they are not afraid of strong colours…