The Top Ten Duos

[14 Aug 2014]


Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top ten auction results for artistic duos.

Couples, siblings, friends…many works are the fruits of collaborations, some of which may be temporary and others permanent artistic partnerships. In this listing of the world’s most expensive works produced by two people, only two Western duos make the top ten alongside four Chinese collaborations. The former are exponents of contemporary art, while the latter are traditional artists.

The Top Ten Duos
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Andy & Jean-Michel WARHOL & BASQUIAT $10,000,000 Zenith 15/05/2014 (Phillips New York)
2 Andy & Jean-Michel WARHOL & BASQUIAT $9,364,200 Olympics 28/06/2012 (Phillips de Pury & Co London)
3 LANG & XU Shinning & Yang $7,722,000 The Emperor Qianlong’s review of the Grand Parade of Troops 08/10/2008 (Sotheby’s Hong Kong)
4 Andy & Jean-Michel WARHOL & BASQUIAT $6,200,000 Third Eye 12/05/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company New York)
5 XIE & CHEN Zhiliu & Peiqiu $5,100,800 Landscapes and calligraphy 23/11/2012 (Beijing Inzone International Auction Beijing)
6 LU & CAI Zhi & Yu $3,546,000 Landscape & calligraphy 03/12/2011 (Beijing Council International Auction Beijing)
7 SHI & ZHU Tao & Da $3,343,200 Various paintings 07/12/2012 (Beijing Council International Auction Beijing)
8 GILBERT & GEORGE $3,292,410 “To her Majesty” 30/06/2008 (Christie’s London)
9 HU & SHI Ming & Lu $2,590,400 Sunrise on the garden 04/06/2013 (Beijing Huaxia Chuancheng Beijing)
10 Emilie Benes RZEZI SKI Bń $2,448,000 Spring rain of Jinggang mountain 17/11/2013 (Beijing Huachen Auctions Co., Ltd Beijing)

Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat
When two of the planet’s most expensive artists come together, it is hardly surprising that their work sets new records. The collaborations between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat occupy 3 places in our Top 10, including the only collaborative work to achieve $10 million at auction. This world record for a work by two people is all the more significant because it was set very recently, in May 2014, by the prophetically-title Zenith, at Phillips in London. Nevertheless, $10 million for a mammoth work almost 7 metres in length (acrylic on canvas, painted in 1985, 297 cm x 673 cm) is something of a bargain when we consider the significance of the work and its two creators. Individually, they sail easily past the $20 million mark for much smaller works. Of course the market adores its big names, but it prefers them to be working alone, unless the duo is a recognised ‘artistic couple’ such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude or Gilbert & George.

Gilbert & George
This British couple, winners of the 1986 Turner Prize, are among the most popular contemporary artists in the UK and USA. 96% of their worldwide sales take place in London and New York. Their prices began to take off in 2008, a few months after their touring retrospective opened at the Tate Modern in London. They first broke through the million-dollar threshold in February 2008, then followed it in June with a record equivalent to $3.29 million for the composition To her Majesty, a work dating from 1973 comprising 37 prints (145 x 350 cm, Christie’s London, 30 June 2008). At the time, this unexpected result (which shattered its estimate of $2 million) was a world record sale in the photography segment and led to the value of the British couple’s works soaring by 190% during 2008 (though it has since dropped).

Chinese art on the march
The stars of contemporary Western art find themselves being challenged by three ancient Chinese drawings. The first of these is a silk scroll by Jin Ku & Sining Lang. The pair were active in the late 17th/early 18th century, and since 2008 they have joined the ranks of the world’s most sought-after ancient masters. In that year, a 15-metre ink drawing depicting the emperor Qianlong reviewing his troops sold for $7,722,000 (HKD 60,000,000) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, making it the tenth most expensive ancient drawing in the world in 2009, behind Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Older still, works by Zhi Lu & Yu Cai and Tao Shi & Da Zhu have been attracting record prices in Beijing thanks to their mastery of Chinese art’s traditional subject: landscape painting in ink. First among these, Zhi Lu & Yu Cai, sold a scroll combining landscape and calligraphy in the Wu style for the equivalent of $3,546,000 in December 2011 ($4,077,900 including buyer’s premium). In second place we find Tao Shi & Da Zhu, who recently broke the million-dollar barrier for the first and only time in December 2012 with the sale of one lot of seven landscape drawings for $3,343,200 ($3.8 million including buyer’s premium).

The presence of the duos Xie Zhiliu & Chen Peiqiu and Ming Hu & Lu Shi in our listing – all four of them active in the 20th century – is proof of the affection and immense respect afforded to the Chinese tradition of ink landscape painting. Subjects, traditional techniques and philosophy are the key elements involved in creating the value of artists in China, whether they are ancient, modern or contemporary, and whether their works pass through the hands of auction houses or museums. One of the two museums currently under construction in Shanghai will be dedicated to the works of Xie Zhiliu & Chen Peiqiu. The duo are strangers to Western salesrooms, with all their works selling in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong. However, their works have exceeded the $100,000 mark on 19 occasions since 2009 and in November 2012 they set a new record equivalent to $5,100,800 (over $5.8 million including buyer’s premium), with an album of 27 landscape drawings accompanied by calligraphy. Together, they sold for more than $1 million above the expected price.

The only Chinese oil on canvas in our ranking is the work of Xiaohe Tang & Li Cheng. This sold for $2,448,000 (over $2.8 million including buyer’s premium) last November in Beijing, five months after the opening of a major retrospective of the couple’s work by the Hubei Museum of Art. Their work is typical of Social Realism in that it celebrates the virtues of Communism. It had a major influence on their compatriots – artists and non-artists alike. The works of Xiaohe Tang & Li Cheng form part of China’s illustrious history. They are still finding their feet in the auction market and will certainly be serving up many more surprises over the years to come.