Top of the Pop Art

[13 Jan 2017]

It’s Top Ten Friday! Every other Friday Artprice brings you an auction top ten on a particular theme. This week we ask, do the best results in 2016 from the two stars of the Pop Art world, Warhol and Lichtenstein, reflect a strong market downturn?

Although Pop Art isn’t historically and creatively encapsulated by Warhol and Lichtenstein, the auction Top 10 suggests otherwise. These two American artists eclipse all their contemporary pop artists when it comes to numbers. The top 10 best-selling Pop Art in 2016 is monopolised by its two iconic American artists, with a cumulative sales price close to $101 m … Admittedly an impressive result for the sale of just 10 works, but compared with the same Top 10 of 2015, which hit $385 m, it has nosedived.

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $24 425 000 Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) 2016-11-17 Sotheby’s New York NY
2 Roy LICHTENSTEIN (1923-1997) $21 530 000 Nudes in Mirror 2016-11-16 Phillips New York NY
3 $8 677 000 Sailboats 2016-05-10 Christie’s New York NY
4 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $8 112 500 Lenin 2016-11-17 Sotheby’s New York NY
5 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $7 698 000 Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) 2016-05-11 Sotheby’s New York NY
6 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $7 410 512 Large Campbell’s Soup Can 2016-02-10 Sotheby’s London
7 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $6 519 500 Self-Portrait 2016-11-15 Christie’s New York NY
8 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $6 062 791 « 20 Pink Mao’s » 2016-10-05 Phillips London
9 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) $5 924 061 Two Dollar Bills (Fronts) [40 Two Dollar Bills in red] 2016-06-29 Christie’s London
10 $4 573 371 Landscape with Grass 2016-11-27 Phillips New York NY
copyright © 2017

Warhol sales fell by 68.8%

It’s true that 2014 and 2015 did see record highs for Warhol: over $653 m worth of works sold in 2014 and over $523 m worth in 2015. In 2016, his annual sales divided by 3.2, with $163 m worth of works sold during the year. This was a significant under-performance, as the artist’s annual sales fell by 68.8%, and were actually lower than 10 years ago in 2006, which still amounted to $226m.

In 2015, the highest bid for a Warhol was $56.1 m for the sale of Colored Mona Lisa (1963), a huge canvas of over three metres, filled with a portrait of Mona Lisa transformed into a Pop icon, sold on 13 May at Christie’s in New York. Never before sold at auction, it became the eighth most expensive Warhol ever sold, not forgetting that his highest price had already exceeded $100 m in 2013 when Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold for $105.4 m (13 November 2013 at Sotheby’s). The Pop Art icon’s highest price in 2016 was just $24.4 m, fetched by a huge self-portrait which Sotheby’s hoped would reach $30 m (Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)). Not too worrying though because the work still met the reserve and went for a price within the estimated range. Failure to sell would have been more alarming…

The annual record for a Lichtenstein has dropped from $95.3 m to $21.5 m

Although Lichtenstein has taken three of the annual Top 10 spots from his countryman, his performance is not a patch on his amazing performance in 2015. Don’t forget that Nurse (1964), bought for $1.5 m in 1995, was sold for $95.3 m in 2015, a capital gain of around +6,055% in just 20 years. Nurse beat the previous record by more than $39 m, and was the fourth highest auction worldwide in 2015. In 2016, the other King of Pop Art reached $21.5 m for Nudes in Mirror, a work completed in 1994. The same work may well have fetched more in the euphoria of the 2015 auctions, but it nevertheless reached number nine in the artist’s auction sales.

The under-performance of Pop Art is relative of course, as 2015 was the most outstanding in the history of auctions in terms of record sales, including three works sold for over $100 m during the year (Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) by Picasso, sold for $179.4 m; L’Homme au doigt by Giacometti, sold for $141.2 m and Nu couché (1917-1918) by Modigliani, which went for $170.4 m). 2016 saw no such bidding wars, but instead a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude against a background of instability, restructuring and repositioning. The drop in sales prices is due to a lack of works of the highest quality, and not due to the decline of the high-end market where demand is still stronger than supply, if we are to believe the big auction houses…