HYPERREALISM – “Clichés” of reality…



Hyperrealism, which emerged in the USA in the 60s, inherits its attachment to a banal everyday version of reality from Pop art. The artists draw their subjects from real life; but it is a “second-hand” real life, because they do not create their works directly in front of the person or thing they are depicting, but from photographs. They demonstrate a great, often laborious, technical virtuosity, to transcribe a reality that has been examined under a microscope. Although the hyperrealists have in common the effort they make to achieve a mimetic reproduction, they are distinguished from one another by the choice of themes that they tackle. Chuck Close focuses his attention on faces, John Salt on cars, John de Andrea on nudes, Duane Hanson on middle-class Americans, Richard Estes on urban landscapes, and so on.

Prices for Chuck CLOSE are exploding in the US! Between 2004 and 2005, they shot up by 90% although it has to be said that none of his oils or acrylics appeared in the sale rooms during 2004, and the first auctioned in 2005 was a monumental portrait entitled John dated 1971-72 which set a new record of USD 4,300,000 (EUR 3,348,840) for the artist (254 x 228.6 cm, Sotheby’s NY). Close’s large scale works thus sell for well over a million euros; but a study for John found a buyer at the same sale for USD 170,000 (EUR 132,396). Even more affordable, a Maquette for Alex, assembled from various media including a Polaroid, will be available for USD 20,000 (EUR 15,744) at the May 2006 sales at Phillips, de Pury & Company NY.
The manifest craze for Close’s paintings places him ahead of the movement’s two other major figures: the sculptors Duane HANSON and John Louis DE ANDREA. These two artists excel in sculptural trompe l’oeil, but their works have never reached a million dollars in a public sale. Their work has been increasingly present on the market in recent years: of a total of 24 Duane Hanson sculptures ever offered at auctions, half of them went under the hammer between 2003 and 2005 in the EUR 100,000 – EUR 250,000 price bracket. Since 2003, the market has also taken up the works of De Andrea again. However, after an absence of 5 years from the public market, his life-size fibreglass figures cost around 50 times less than those of his older peer Duane Hanson.

There are hyperrealist artists in Europe, such as Frantz Gertsch, Jean Olivier Hucleux and Gerad Schlosser. The low number of works that come up for auction is largely due to a very limited production due to the artists’ slow and meticulous techniques.
Franz Gertsch’s overall portfolio of paintings amounts to less than 100 works on canvas since 1969! Lovers of his work therefore focus their attention on prints, which are much more numerous. Thus, Pestwurzelblatt, a colour print in an edition of 80 was sold at auction by Dobiaschofsky in Bern for EUR 1,684 in 2005. In 2002 the same auction house put an early work in oil on canvas of a similar size on sale (Sonniger Weg zwischen Bäumen, 1946), which was sold for a lower price: EUR 1,025. Gertsch thus sells for less than Schlosser and Hucleux for whom one would have to pay between EUR 10,000 and EUR 20,000 for an accomplished work of a good size.
Following the example of Chuck Close, Jean Olivier Hucleux has a feeling for faces and is also very popular. Hucleux’s monumental works are in public and private collections which they leave only on a temporary basis. In his case too, few major works reach the market, with only works on paper available. From a simple study to a portrait in graphite more than 2 metres high, there is a great variation in prices: from EUR 500 to EUR 20,000!
The prices for European artists are still a long way from those for the American figureheads. The prices they reach at auction do, however, reach those of less well-known hyperrealists such as Richard Cottingham, Don Eddy or Robert Bechtle,