The New Realists – Six records in six months



During their lifetimes, several New Realists gained considerable recognition in the United States. Their participation in the artistic maelstrom of New York during the 1960-80s partly explains their success at American and British auctions. Pierre Restany, a travelling art critic and polyglot involved in the emergence of the movement, worked towards their promotion in the USA; artist Niki de Saint Phalle, a French-Americain, frequently crossed the Atlantic; Jean Tinguely gained notoriety with his Homage to New-York, a cacaphonic happening at the MOMA in 1960 whose apotheosis was its intended self-destruction. The following year, Arman exposed for the first time in New-York, while Leo Castelli, a dealer of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg, opened his gallery to Yves Klein.

Yves KLEIN, would have been 80 this year. Although he died young in 1962 from a heart attack, his production over a short decade sufficed to make him the most expensive of the New realist artists.
Klein focused much of his artistic attention on three colours with strong symbolic value: ‘metaphysical’ blue; ‘absolute’ gold, and ‘carnal’ pink. Up until last May his vibrant blue paintings created with a pigment he patented under the name IKB (International Klein Blue) were his most sought-after works in auction rooms. Indeed, it was his IKB works that first projected the artist through the million-dollar threshold in 1989 when Ikb 86 sold for the equivalent of $1.49m in London. Among the 29 subsequent sales of his work above the million-dollar waterline, 26 were « blue ». However, on 14 May of this year the price dominance of his « blue » works ended at the Sotheby’s sale of the Helga & Walter Lauffs collection when the Monogold from a famous monochrome trilogy in three lots generated, on its own, far more revenue than Klein’s total auction revenue for 2007 ($16.5m). Entitled MG 9 and created shortly before his death in 1962, it went under the hammer at a spectacular and unexpected 21 million dollars, compared with a price estimate of $6-8m! This sum not only represents an absolute record for a French artist in the Contemporary Art segment, but it also beats some of the major American stars of the segment such as Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Wesselmann and Basquiat!

The same day, his IKB 1– a blue monochrome of similar dimensions to MG 9 – went under the hammer at $15.5m and his Monopink MP 13 fetched $4.2m. Total revenue from three lots: 40.7 million dollars… more than his total auction revenue over the four previous years (2004 – 2007) ! And the ball is still rolling: at the beginning of July in London, Sotheby’s generated Yves Klein’s record for a sculpture when an IKB impregnated sponge (SE 262) sold for 2.7 million dollars. Similar works had sold for the equivalent of $37,500 in 1986 (Se 207, Sotheby’s London) and $370,000 in 2001 (Se 194, Sotheby’s NY).These spectacular results on Klein’s work have generously contributed to the formidable leap in the price index of New Realism as a whole which now shows a progression of +308% in less than 10 years.

Between January and July 2008, apart from the two Klein records, there were 4 other new records in the New Realist camp: on 29 January, Daniel SPOERRI‘s tableau-piège Eaten by Marcel Duchamp sold for 110,000 euros at Artcurial; Jacques VILLEGLÉ‘s torn posters mounted on canvas – Quai des Célestins – fetched 120,000 euros at the same sale. On 1July, Martial RAYSSE‘s Snack sold for GBP 1.02 million at Sotheby’s in London and a new record was set for Jean TINGUELY at the same sale when his Métamatic N°7 fetched GBP 920,000. Although prices are rising, close to 31% of New Realism works are still accessible for less than 5,000 euros at auction (not including prints).