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Every fortnight, Artprice provides a short round up of art market news.

A look back at the best contemporary art sales

Sales of post-war and contemporary art are still breaking records. The stakes are now huge, due to a growing demand that has been stimulated by recent trends and the financialisation of the sector. In this particular game, and in this sector, New York is the global capital of the very high-end market. This is evidenced by the fact that the seven top sales of contemporary art in auction history were made in New York between 2007 and 2013, not surprisingly at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Auctions held in May broke the most records (5 of the 7 sales), although November also proved to be a good month. Between 2007 and 2012, the top sales prices fluctuated between $294 million and $363 million, but the session at Christie’s on 15 May 2013 shattered the previous record by over $130 million by achieving a total of $495 million.

The traditional English auction house made more in one evening than was achieved in the whole of France in a year ($505 million worldwide in 2012).

The primitive art of Otto Muehl

Austrian artist Otto MÜHL, co-founder of Viennese Actionism with Günter BRUS, Hermann NITSCH and Rudolf SCHWARZKOGLER, died on 26 May 2013 in Portugal at the age of 87 (born 16 June 1925 at Grodnau, Burgenland, Austria; died 26 May 2013 at Moncarapacho, Olhão, Portugal).

He was famed for his depictions of the destruction of classical forms of art and his angry sexual performance pieces, his provocative actions were not restricted to the creative domain. They insinuated themselves into the artist’s whole way of life. In 1972 he founded a sect that advocated free love and the destruction of traditional cultural models. In 1988 he was accused of brainwashing and paedophilia and was sent to prison for six years (1991 to 1997) before moving to Portugal.

Art historians particularly remember his shock performance pieces where the body overflowed in the disorder of its energy flows. The scandal of the transgressing body should be seen in the context of the 1960s. At the time, it was a medium of resistance to the excessive order imposed by the Nazis that was to result in the most terrible of disorders. The body of the Viennese Actionist foils obscenity with obscenity. It is a pharmakon, both poison and remedy.

Videos of these performances have done the rounds of certain exhibitions and amongst a few devoted collectors. But no works of this type have appeared on the auction market. A few photographs alone bear witness to these unrestrained performances (these photos make up less than 6% of his auction sales).

Amateur collectors are generally happy to buy his works on canvas (almost one-quarter of transactions) and on paper (almost half of transactions). Six canvases from the 1980s have already sold for between $50,000 and $100,000 since 2008, all in Vienna, the stronghold of Actionism. The last sale was made just ten days before the artist’s death. Ägyptische Gitarre (1984) achieved a hammer price equivalent to $80,000 (200 cm x 170 cm Dorotheum, Vienna, 16/05/2013).

The savage and controversial utopia of Otto Muehl has been rewarded by the market – in 10 years, the value of his works has increased by 113%.

Chéri Samba – popular culture is a luxury

Chéri SAMBA was born in Zaire in 1956 and began drawing at an early age. He was 16 when he arrived in Kinshasa (Congo) to work as a sign painter and to immerse himself in the world of comic strips. Straight away, popular culture became his favourite playground, his subject, his mode of expression and his audience. The artist adopts the bubbles of comic strip art to highlight his pictures with a concise commentary on current events and social issues.

He quickly became the most popular artist in Kinshasa, then went on to attract attention outside Africa when he took part in the famous Les Magiciens de la Terre exhibit at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1989, which led to New York and Venice opening up their doors.

And now, with Louis Vuitton, he is entering the world of luxury. The French brand has chosen to use his acid aesthetic to illustrate its Travel Book, after fruitful collaborations with today’s most fashionable Japanese artists, Takashi MURAKAMI and Yayoi KUSAMA.

It should be noted that a major painting by Chéri Samba is already a luxury product. Several self-portraits from the J’aime la Couleur series are currently selling for between $40,000 and $100,00, including buyer’s premium.