Auction Overview: Georg Baselitz for Frieze 2021

Georg Baselitz, Clyfford Still (350-450 GBP) at Sotheby’s Oct 14th

There are three works coming up for sale in London’s Frieze week auctions. Two are works on paper and a third is a portrait of Clyfford Still on canvas. Last week, another work on paper, Adler from 1978, sold for $50,000 at Christie’s, a price right in line with the market. 

Of the works on offer in London, the Elke from 1976 was recently purchased at Bonhams for $41,000. It comes back to the market two years later with a low estimate almost precisely at the price previously paid. The other work on paper, a watercolor from 1983 that was purchased directly from the artist in 1989, has the virtue of having not been on the market before. 

The Clyfford Still portrait from Baselitz’s Devotion series follows another work from the same series depicting Willem de Kooning which sold in May at Christie’s day sale for $687,500. Sotheby’s estimate for the Still is right in line with these numbers. 

Looking at the top prices at auction for Baselitz on, we can see that the market focuses on works from either the early 1960s or the early 1980s. The Sixties pictures present Baselitz emerging as an artist and grappling with the effects of a divided Germany’s post-war reconstruction. The works for the early 1980s mark that period’s rediscovery of Expressionism. 

Per Skarstedt took that idea further in 2020 when he showed the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat side-by-side with Baselitz’s own contemporaneous paintings. Both artists had been featured in Documenta 7 in 1982. Skarstedt’s show focused on work made by both artists in the period leading up to that show which also happened to be the moment when Basquiat emerged as an international phenomenon and Baselitz was able to reach a broader audience in Europe and the United States. 

Because the auction market values the work from these two periods above the artist’s other works, there has been according to George O’Dell at Live Art Market, “a trough of value in the later works.” Over the past four years, the private market has witnessed an arbitrage as works sold for prices in the $700,000 range were easily resold within a short holding period for prices above $1 million. 

Some of the interest in Baselitz, like the retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, reflects an interest in a major artist with a long career whose work can be easily triangulated. Among the most significant post-war German painters, Baselitz’s work is far cheaper on the secondary market than his compatriot Gerhard Richter’s work. With a top price of $9 million achieved four years ago, Baselitz has also not seen a run-up in prices caused by the same sort of historical focus that Sigmar Polke’s work has received in recent years.

One issue that might be holding the Baselitz market back is the lack of significant buying from Asia. European and American collectors tend to focus on different periods and bodies of work by the artist. Asian buyers are entering this market. But it remains to be seen if collectors from the East will value the historical works from such a particular moment in European history—Germany’s reconciliation with its past. 

Or, with a growing interest among Asian buyers for works by Expressionist painters like Willem de Kooning or Jean-Michel Basquiat, could Baselitz be just the sort of artist that buyers will perceive as undervalued in the years to come?

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