The stars of American Contemporary art for under $5,000…



In terms of supply, the Contemporary art market is in fact very accessible for amateur art collectors, with thousands of works – about 60 % of the total number offered – selling for between a few hundred dollars and $5,000. This price range is mainly fuelled by prints, demand for which has more than doubled in recent years, and which make it possible to access works by some of the market’s key signatures like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Keith Haring, Maurizio Cattelan, Damien Hirst or Anish Kapoor. In this article we focus on affordable works by the past year’s three most sought-after Contemporary American artists (born after 1945) and we note that supply in this affordable segment is not just limited to prints.

Top 3 American artists

The three most successful Contemporary American artists at auction in recent months have been Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, Jeff KOONS and Christopher WOOL. For the year from July 2012 to June 2013, the combined auction turnover of these three market giants amounted to over $310 million. As one might expect, the value of the multiples produced by these artists has been following the same inflationary path as the prices of their major works: however a substantial portion of their production remains available at less than $5,000.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Over the past year (July 2012 – June 2013) sales of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s works in the United States have accounted for nearly 29% of American auction turnover in the Contemporary art segment. In fact, Basquiat has become a crucial signature for the success of prestige sales not just in New York, but also in London and Paris. Demand for and speculation on Basquiat’s work has become so intense that his large silkscreens on canvas, usually limited to 10 copies, sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars (a large Untitled dated 1983 exceeded a million dollars in 2013 when it fetched $1.2 million [over $1.4 million including costs] on 7 March 2013 at Sotheby’s in New York). For a budget not exceeding $5,000, the amateur can access a collector’s screen-printed vinyl record sleeve (unsigned, for around $400), polaroids taken by the artist (unsigned, for around $4,000) representing souvenirs of the highly concentrated art world of the late 1980s, or lithograph posters, sometimes signed (and dedicated) for between $3,000 and $5,000.

Jeff Koons

Carrying the torch of Pop art and inspired by collective iconography, Jeff Koons makes it a point of honor to distribute his works as broadly as possible, producing thousands of objects in addition to prints. The secondary market is full so this type of work that more than half the auction results for Koons’ works are under $5,000 threshold. Faced with bulimic demand, his market effortlessly swallows this type of supply at affordable prices, especially when the pieces in question are emblematic of his major works, such as the ceramic multiple of Balloon dog,, available in red and blue and produced in series of 2,300. On average, these shiny dogs fetch between $2,000 and $5,000 (although some fetch more than $10,000) … which is ten times the range they fetched in 2000-2001. His Puppies – small porcelain vases measuring 40cm high and produced in an edition of 3,000 – have followed the same path, from around $1,000 in the early 2,000s to nearly $10,000 (including seller’s fees) for the last two Puppies sold at auction (the hammer price was $8,000).

Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool is one of the decade’s most successful artists on the secondary market, with a price index that has risen by approximately 1,300% since 2003 … His extraordinary performance in 2012 (his work generated over $26 million, excluding seller’s fees) has mainly been driven by a remarkable increase in the price of his paintings since 2010 (accounting for 69% of transactions on his works); however plenty of Wool multiples exist (representing 21% of his auction lots) and 20% of his works sell for less than $8,000 (of which 10% at under $2,200).
In the 1990s, a large format drawing changed hands between for $1,500 and $10,000… a budget that is barely enough to buy a Wool print these days. With market for Wool’s work being stronger than ever, certain unique serigraphs can reach beyond the $100,000 mark … but these are rare cases and even if demand is very strong, it is still possible to make some interesting acquisitions, such as an aquatint (Untitled, from Henry Street Settlement, 2005) from a limited edition of 35 copies which sold for $2,000 ($2,500 including fees) in July 2012 at Christie’s New York.

Amateur collectors should be aware that the success of these affordable works by top selling artists has generated a commercial opening for fakes and they must therefore exercise caution in making any acquisitions. There means obtaining information on the origin of the edition in question, its certified limitation, the importance of the work’s subject in the artist’s overall oeuvre, and of course, the condition of the piece concerned.