Top 10 Hard-To-Find Artists IV – Postwar Art


Fridays are the best! Every other Friday Artprice offers you a themed auction ranking. This week’s ranking reveals the ten best hard-to-find post-war artists of the year at auction.

Top of all these hard-to-find artists, this ranking honours four Americans (including two women) who are already acclaimed by leading museums and galleries. The prices attained here endorse artistic achievements that have ensured a secure place for these artists in the history of twentieth century art. Besides the Americans, one Iraqi artist and three Asians emerge. Their presence, unexpected to say the least, reveals new trends driven by the vitality of the Dubai and Hong Kong markets.

Top 10 Hard-to-Find Artists IV – Postwar Art
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Vija CELMINS $1,1000,000 Long Ocean (1973) 2015-05-13 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
2 Vija CELMINS $820,000 Blackboard Tableau #8 (Edward) (2012) 2015-05-13 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
3 YUAN Yunfu $361,200 Jiangnan Waterscape (1981) 2015-04-04 Sotheby’s HONG KONG
4 Jim NUTT $300,000 Gulf (1991) 2015-03-06 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
5 Robert Alan BECHTLE $280,000 Alameda Intersection – Clay and Mound Streets(2004) 2015-05-13 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
6 Mahmoud SABRI $260,000 Jnazet (Funeral) (1961) 2015-03-18 Christie’s DUBAÏ
7 Jo BAER $205,686 Untitled (1966/70) 2015-02-11 Sotheby’s LONDON
8 Myeun Ro YOUN $187,050 Crack 77-710 (1977) 2015-05-31 Seoul Auction HONG KONG
9 Robert Alan BECHTLE $160,000 Potrero Stroller-Crossing Arkansas Street (1988) 2015-03-05 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
10 LEE Reed $154,800 Homesickness (1983) 2015-05-31 Ravenel Art Group HONG KONG
copyright © 2015


American hyper-realism: 40% of the ranking with Celmins Alan and Robert BechtleThe great figure of American hyperrealism, Vija CELMINS (1939) decided on her vocation as an artist in 1962. She opted for art studies at the University of California (1962-1965) and began taking photographs that would be the basis of her works (from 1966) and compiled images from magazines, favouring views of deserts, constellations and the sea. The rating has soared for her works, rarely shown at auction (only 25 original works in 25 years) but in high demand among American collectors. When powerful pieces come onto the market, they can defy all odds. This was the case at the Good to go organised by Sotheby’s on September 24, 2014, including a rare assortment of works by Celmins, from the Joni Gordon collection at Newspace gallery. There was overriding enthusiasm, with three new records being set, including $3.4 million for Burning Plane (1965), which almost tripled its high estimate. Then in May 2015, Sotheby’s offered a beautiful ocean view (Long Ocean, 1973), which changed hands for $1.33 million including fees. The highest rated artist of this ranking, Celmins defends a meditative hyperrealism far-removed from the typically American imagery of her compatriot Robert Alan BECHTLE (1932), who also holds two places in this ranking.Less well-known internationally than hyperrealists Chuck CLOSE, John Louis DE ANDREA and Duane HANSON, Robert Alan Bechtle is nonetheless equally highly priced in the US, including for recent works. His rating took off in 2006, when he first attained a record $66,000 for a 1987 watercolour (Broome Street Walkman, Sotheby’s New York, November 15, 2006), then beat all odds the next day with $408,000 for the oil on canvas 62 Chevy (1970). Why in 2006? Robert Alan Bechtle was at that time beginning to work seriously through the Gladstone Gallery with the added bonus of his works being exhibited that year at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (Full House exhibition).

Surrealism and Minimalism: two opposites meet

Two other major American movements are also represented here: the popular surrealism ofJim NUTT (1938) and the radical minimalism of Jo BAER (1929).A surrealist drawing inspiration from American popular culture, much like the Pop Art artists, Jim Nutt is considered a pioneer, as founder of the Chicago group of imagists, otherwise known as Hairy who. Working with the David Nolan Gallery (New York), and having benefitted from a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2011 (Jim Nutt: Coming Into Character, January 29 to May 29, 2011), Jim Nutt has been defended well but his auction market lacked vitality until 2013, a year marked by two highly exceptional results recorded in Paris (multiplying initial estimates by 15 and 27 respectively). The following year, 2014, outstanding results were recorded in New York, including that for Please, Stop Smiling (1977, a canvas estimated at $20,000 and sold for $269,000 at Christie’s, May 14, 2014). Is this enthusiasm a sign of the revival in the market for “historical” twentieth century Americans, or is it related to the recent swell in media coverage that Nutt has enjoyed with the Jeff KOONSretrospectives, which presented him as a key figure in the development of Koons’ personal style? The rise of Jim Nutt remains in any case among the most notable of the past two years.Jo Baer has also reached such high price levels just recently, with a radically different background and work. Her work was honoured by the most influential players in the art world in the 1960s (including at Documenta IV in Kassel in 1968), and her works are included in the most distinguished American collections, including MoMA in New York, the Guggenheim and Whitney. Despite this impeccable background, the artist (who now lives in Amsterdam) remains little known. Rare are the minimal art lovers eager to acquire her radical monochromes at between $100,000 and $250,000. Jo Baer is defended by the Gagosian Gallery which to date has exhibited her in Switzerland only. Her pricing could evolve further if it is supported by some good American news.

From Dubai to Hong Kong

While the four Americans resonate across the entire Western market (with sales in London, Paris, etc.), it is otherwise for Mahmoud SABRI, YUAN Yunfu, Myeun Ro YOUN and LEE Reed who are geographically confined.It is in Dubai, and only in Dubai, that enthusiasts could snap up the best paintings of the Iraqi Mahmoud Sabri (1927-2012) for more than $300,000 or $400,000. Exhibited in London in 2013, where he was presented as one of the key artists of the renewal of painting in Iraq, Mahmoud Sabri has not yet broken through on the western market but his pricing illustrates the vitality of the art market in the United Arab Emirates.As for Yunfu Yuan, Myeun Ro Youn and Lee Reed, they all attained new records this year thanks to Hong Kong sales. The Korean Myeun Ro Youn (1936) , whose great works struggled to reach $5,000 ten years ago, now fetch up to to $187,000 (Crack 77-710, 1977, Seoul Auction, May 31, 2015). His market rating has been taking off since his retrospective at the Contemporary Art National Museum of Korea in 2013 and through the sales of Seoul Hong Kong.As for the Taiwanese artist Lee Reed (1921) , he is much sought after in both Taiwan and China, where he lived for nearly 10 years in the province of Sichuan before returning to his island. His abstract work is just beginning to break into the top end of the market with a record of $185,000 recorded in May 2015 at Ravenel (Homesickness). He needs only more global visibility to complete this ascension.