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Christopher Wool – an explosive market

[05 Aug 2014]

 

$23.5 million for the canvas Apocalypse Now in November 2013 and $21 million for If You in May 2014, Christopher WOOL is today one of the essential signatures in Contemporary art sales, on the same level as Jeff KOONS and Gerhard RICHTER.
One reason for this extraordinary success has been a dense flow of prestigious news over the past two years, particularly since his integration into one of the most powerful galleries on the planet, a firm that is now present in seven countries and whose Director has established himself as one of the most influential players in the art market: Larry Gagosian. The Gagosian empire has a total of 12 galleries worldwide (New York, London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Geneva, Hong Kong) and its market power can be measured by the exceptional auction performances of his protégées.

Another factor contributing to Wool’s phenomenal success is the ongoing revaluation of works by the great abstract painters of our time (especially American, but also Chinese). For example, the compulsive priority given to works by Cy TWOMBLY (born 1928, died 2011) illustrates the spectacular rise in prices for American abstract paintings. In 2011, one of his works crossed the $10m threshold for the first time (Untitled, 1967 generated a new auction record for the artist at $13.5m on 11 May 2011 at Christie’s New York). Since then, Twombly has sold above this threshold four times.

After Twombly, America’s new generation of abstract painters is now being spearheaded by the Christopher WOOL who sees himself more as a conceptual artist than as a painter. Considered one of the most influential artists of our time and sometimes described as the greatest American painter alive today, Wool has been “deconstructing the foundations” of visual images for over thirty years.

The artist participated in the Venice Biennial in 2011, had a first major exhibition in France in 2012 (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, March 30 – August 19) and then another at the Guggenheim in New York (25 October 2013 – 22 January 2014). His presence is rapidly growing in the rankings of the best results at Contemporary art auctions. In 2010 he was already considered a challenger in the field of Contemporary painting to the likes of Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, CHEN Yifei, Richard PRINCE and Jeff KOONS. Today his price index shows an extraordinary track record: few artists can boast an increase of 400% since the year 2000!

In effect, after 2010 his prices began an extraordinary ascension. 2010 saw his work Blue Fool – a large painting with big blue enamel capital letters stencilled onto a white aluminium support – fetch $4.4m (Blue Fool, 11 May 2010, Christie’s New York). The visual language is distant and systematic, with lettering resembling that used in popular culture. The choice of words (no punctuation) perhaps motivated by revolt, absurdity, a sense of tragedy or maybe just humour … in short, the object is impressive while the “work” remains elusive. Wool deconstructs traditional painting and its associated icons and simultaneously signals its decline while redefining painting as a new subversive space. Blue Fool is from the series of Word paintings begun in 1987. Today it is the most sought-after series on the auction market as some consider it changed the very meaning of abstract painting. In 2012 a black version of this work (black lettering on white background) set a new auction record (at that time) for the artist at nearly $6.8m (Untitled (Fool) fetched £4.35m at Christie’s London on 14 February 2012). The same work sold for $380,000 on 19 May 1999 at Christie’s in New York. The inspired buyer of this painting in 1999 earned more than $6.4m in 13 years.

Christopher Wool has become one of the most successful artists of the decade and a leading signature on the secondary market: in 2012 his works generated over $26 million in auction turnover (excluding sellers’ fees); in 2013 the total was $68.6 million and for the first six months of 2014, the total already stood at $43.8 million (19 paintings sold).

In the 1990s, a large format drawing by Wool changed hands for between $1,500 and $10,000. Today that kind of budget is barely enough to buy a Wool print.

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