Hans Hartung appears to have caught the wind

[15 Jan 2019]

After decades of inertia, the market for the great abstract artist Hans Hartung is gaining momentum thanks to support from leading galleries and museums.

A major adept of ‘gestural’ painting in the 1920s and 30s (i.e. well before the great American ‘action’ paintings of Pollock, de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell…), Hans HARTUNG (1904-1989) played a key role in the history of 20th century painting. However, after receiving full recognition during his lifetime (in the 60s and 70s), the German artist fell into relative market oblivion for roughly three decades. Today the amnesia concerning Hans Hartung’s work appears to be lifting and his work is attracting a lot of attention from important galleries and major cultural institutions.

Over the past two years, Hans Hartung’s market has shown strong signs of awakening from its slumber. In 2017, Emmanuel Perrotin’s Gallery officially announced its representation of the artist’s estate, a representation shared with the Simon Lee Gallery (based in London, New York and Hong Kong), in agreement with Anna-Eva Bergman, Hartung’s wife and sole beneficiary. The commitment from Perrotin marks a turning point for the artist’s market as the French gallery has the capacity to whip up market momentum on this œuvre – important for the history of 20th century painting – ensuring it gets a truly international exposure. Perrotin has outlets in Paris and New York, but also four spaces in Asia: Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo and now Shanghai (where a Pompidou Center will also be opening its doors next spring). These multiple opportunities in Asia should allow a significant expansion of the circle of collectors interested in his work.

Galleries giving support and collaborating

After presenting works by Hartung at New York’s TEFAF Spring fair in May 2017, Perrotin exhibited works by Hartung a month later at Art Basel (the Swiss one) in collaboration – for the first time – with the Simon Lee Gallery. The two dealers seem to get along, and combined their efforts and their stands to devote 80m² of exhibition space to Hartung’s work at the prestigious fair.

In 2018, interest in Hartung gathered additional pace with an exhibition in Germany (Bonn’s Kunstmuseum) and solo exhibitions organized by major dealers including Simon Lee in London, Nahmad in New York and Brame & Lorenceau in Paris. However the year’s most significant event was a major retrospective at Perrotin’s New York outlet (Hans Hartung: A Constant Storm. Works from 1922 to 1989, 12 January – 18 February 2018). Considered the largest monographic exhibition of the artist’s work since that organized at the Metropolitan Museum in 1975, this museum-quality retrospective was made possible thanks to the Hartung Bergman Foundation and loans from the MoMA. The works shown at the Perrotin gallery covered more than 60 years of creation, from the major works created in the early 1920s to works from the late 1980s.

A veritable lift on the auction market….

The results of these efforts are already clearly visible on the secondary market. Indeed Hans Hartung has never been in such demand: with an unsold rate at its lowest ever (15.8% in 2018), there is a clear remobilization of demand for his work and his prices are clearly rising … His price index shows a 70% increase in just two years and his auction turnover total for 2018 reached a record $9 million, an 80% increase over 2017.

Since December 2017 the market has pushed Hartung to two new peaks (T1956-13 sold for $3.2 million at Sotheby’s Paris on 6 December 2017 and T1956-8 sold for $1.77 million at the same operator in June 2018). These results are significant although still far below the prices fetched by abstract American art from the same period.

In short, the recent ascent could well be the start of a long-term revaluation of Hartung’s work around the world. Several exhibitions are programmed for 2019 which marks the 30th anniversary of the artist’s death. Among these, the Paris Museum of Modern Art will reopen after works with a major Hartung retrospective (from 11 October 2019 to 23 February 2020). The artist has not been shown at the institution since 1969.