TÀPIES & BARCELÓ – Two generations of Spanish “materialists”.

[03 Aug 2006]


Antoni TAPIES and Miquel BARCELO have much in common, besides their Spanish origins. Both artists instil their works with an unusually powerful physical presence, through the density of the pictured surface which is scored, uneven, thickened, stained or overlaid with disparate materials.While Joan MIRO encouraged Tàpies to exploit the widest possible range of materials, Barceló was fascinated by André BRETON whose idea of the fortuitous meeting (of objects and ideas) perhaps inspired his experimental quest that led him to incorporate sand and ash, ceramic and bone into his art.

Antoni Tàpies and Miquel Barceló have taken Spanish art onto the global stage. Tàpies, born in 1923 in Barcelona, is a revolutionary artist who, after a brief figurative period between 1949 and 1951, began integrating materials from outside the field of art into his work from as early as the 1950s. Barceló is not yet 50 and his price index is actually higher than his predecessor. Half of Barceló’s auction sales are for more than EUR 30,000 compared to less than 10% of Tàpies’ although this is partly due to the size of the market for Tàpies prints, which account for 80% of his transactions, compared to just 20% of Barceló’s. Reckon on paying under EUR 1,000 for a print from an edition of over 500.

Enthusiasm for Barceló’s work developed early. He had his first showing in a Spanish gallery at just 17. Now, his works are in great demand and his bought-in ratio at an all-time low (5% in 2005, compared to 25% in 2004). Turnover in 2005 was EUR 4.1 million, the same as in 2002, when he saw his one and only million euro sale for the imposing Autour du Lac Noir (230 x 296 cm) which went for GBP 850,000 (EUR 1.3 million) at Sotheby’s London on 26 June that year. The pieces that use rich combinations of materials are particularly sought-after. At the auctions held on 22 June this year two small format works from the 1990s were put up: the oil on canvas Taxi Brousse went for GBP 70,000 (EUR 102,263, 30 x 41cm, Sotheby’s London) while the Plaza con 2 Puertas in a mix of oils, sand and paper on canvas, reached double its low estimate at GBP 320,000 (EUR 467,488, 47 x 56cm, Christie’s London). Overall, his price index gained 264% between January 1998 and May 2006, rising twice as fast as that of Antoni Tàpies.

Tàpies has never had a million-plus sale. But his canvases of over 1 metre now trade for more than EUR 100,000. On 22 June, 2006, all four large format works sold at Sotheby’s London fetched over EUR 100,000. The highest hammer price ever paid for a Tàpies was on 9 February 2005 when Rosa con Franja Negra, made in 1963 using oil and sand on canvas, went for GBP 380,000 (EUR 552,178) at Christie’s London.As with Barceló, some of the densely worked small formats can command high prices: the 50 x 61cm impasto in oil, resin and sand, Relief with Two Symmetrical Marks, found a buyer for GBP 130,00 (EUR 189,423) at Christie’s London on 9 February 2006. The piece had previously been acquired for GBP 55,000 on 28 June 1995 at Sotheby’s in the same city. Twenty years ago, a collector could have picked up a small format Tàpies for around EUR 2,000. On 25 March 1986, for instance, a work in oils of around 25 x 35cm was knocked down for GBP 1,100 (EUR 1,761) at Christie’s London.

As “masters of materials” both Tàpies and Barceló also worked in ceramics. In this field, Tàpies’ index trades at twice that of Barceló, whose pieces come up rarely and go for around EUR 15,000. As in other media, their organically shaped ceramic creations condense the material’s expressive possibilities with great brio.