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Cy Twombly: a market bulls-eye

[16 Aug 2016]

Cy Twombly: a market bulls-eye 

The Centre Pompidou in Paris is preparing a large-scale Cy TWOMBLY exhibition that will run from 30 November 2016 to 24 April 2017, with around 140 works. As one of the French capital’s major cultural events this coming autumn and as one of the most sought-after artists in the world, Artprice takes this opportunity to review Cy Twombly’s market info and success story.

How Twombly became world famous

At the time of his first solo exhibition in 1951 at The Kootz Gallery in New York, Twombly’s work was still influenced by Franz KLINE and Robert MOTHERWELL. Ten years later, his artistic vocabulary was substantially broader and his work had broken away from the dominant trends of the day. Aged 36, his career received a major boost when he was included in the 1964 Venice Biennale. A quarter of a century later, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, two major retrospectives (one in MNAM of Paris in 1988 and the other at New York’s MoMA in 1994) considerably accelerated Twombly’s global exposure and in 2001 he received the art world’s ultimate distinction… the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. Although the award had no immediate impact on his auction prices, a multi-venue exhibition in 2004 entitled CY Twombly, 50 years of drawings (St. Petersburg, Munich’s Pinakothek, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Serpentine Gallery in London) triggered renewed interest. The retrospective honoured the career of an artist who was 76 at the time and whose international fame was already well established.

Rocketing prices

Since Twombly’s 2004 itinerant exhibition, his auction prices have inflated by +479% and his works have become an essential component in all major prestige sales. However, the fastest price acceleration has occurred since his death in 2011, with impressive value increments and resales generating potential gains of several million dollars a year.
At the peak of this inflation, one of Twombly’s untitled works from 1970 generated his auction record of $69.6 million at Christie’s in New York (12 November 2014). That is the 31st best result in the history of Fine Art auctions and it put Twombly on a higher market plane than major Modern artists like Edouard Manet and Paul Cézanne… The canvas in question is from Twombly’s Blackboard series and it had remained in the same private collection for forty years. Moreover, it beat the artist’s previous auction record by a staggering $42.8 million, the most impressive Fine Art record differential ever recorded… equivalent to the total 2015 auction turnover ($42.3 million) of Belgium (the 16th marketplace in the world for Fine Art auction turnover).

7th most expensive artist in the world

In 2015, another work from the Blackboard series fetched an even better price when Untitled (New York City) (1968) set a new record for the artist at $70.5 million at Sotheby’s on 11 November 2015. That’s a couple of million more than the price paid for a rare Blue Period Picasso, La Gommeuse (1901), which fetched $67.5 million a week earlier at Sotheby’s (5 November 2015).
During 2015 no less than 75 Twombly works changed hands at auction, generating a total of more than $223 million. That total gave Twombly seventh place in the global ranking of artists by annual auction turnover behind Picasso, Warhol, Monet, Modigliani, Giacometti and Bacon. A new cornerstone of Western prestige sales, Twombly’s prices have above all managed a giant leap to catch-up with other Post-War American artists, including Jackson Pollock.

20% of prestige sale turnover…

This year, like last year, Twombly appears as the key signature in the success of the major Post-War and Contemporary art sales. On 10 February 2015, three of his works generated $17.8 million, nearly 10% of Sotheby’s turnover that night. The following day, three more works produced $37.5 million at Christie’s, more than 20% of the sale’s total turnover.
Following these impressive results, the auctioneers decided to bank heavily on the Twombly signature in 2016. Sotheby’s even contracted the film director John Waters to make a short film dedicated to the artist, which it then posted on its website… with very satisfactory results: Sotheby’s sold two major works by Twombly on 11 May 2016 for nearly $52 million. Again, 21% of the evening’s turnover was generated by Twombly’s works.

Buy and sell

The United States is the primary marketplace for Twombly, generating 73.5% of his auction turnover (between 2014 and 2016). However European collectors of the artist can find a wide range of works in the UK (29% of lots sold), Germany (11.5%), France (4%) and Italy (4.7%).
While only around ten paintings by the artist change hands each year, his market includes numerous drawings and watercolors on paper, some of which are accessible for less $15,000. In addition, sixty prints have been offered for sale over the last 12 months, from silk-screen prints at a few hundred dollars, to rare monotypes that fetch over $100,000.

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