Should a single painting by Damien Hirst cost more than an entire Old Masters sale? Why is Adrian Ghenie’s auction record higher than Frida Kahlo’s? The strange, fickle, and largely subjective nature of art appraisal is one of the industry’s most enduring conundrums and sources of complaint. To analyze what lies behind some of the baffling prices in the art market, in our “This or That” series, we ask experts to compare two very different works of art offered at comparable prices.
London auction week has arrived, and the big houses are brimming with trophy works from blue-chip names as well as fresh material from the hottest emerging stars. The broader financial markets are in turmoil, casting expectations into doubt, but even before that, a selloff like this is full of many puzzles.
This week we spoke with Wendy Goldsmith, art advisor and founder of Goldsmith Art Advisory. We asked him to compare two offers from Sotheby’s upcoming evening sales, “The ‘Now’ and ‘Modern and Contemporary’: contemporary painter George Condo’s Composition of the green head (2013), estimated between £1.5 and £2 million, and that of modernist master Marc Chagall Landscape at the Isba (1968), which carries an identical estimate.
Here is what she said.
This or that? If we’re talking about market considerations, I have to say it’s the Condo hands down.
On aesthetic considerations: There are two completely different feelings in these works, with the Chagall being much more delicate and intimate, so the aesthetic decision would be very much up to the client. The Condo has extraordinary wall power. It’s bigger, punchier and, as always, Condo’s vivid palette hits you between the eyes.
The Chagall is perhaps less appealing to a new collector. This work is on a smaller scale than the Condo and much more traditional in style, with all the symbolism characteristic of the artist’s past. Personally, I’m drawn to the colors in this example. These tints are not the usual “decorative and garish” primary colors, as the artist himself pointed out. Instead Chagall used a much more sophisticated and translucent palette during this period of various stained glass commissions in the windows of public buildings, including the United Nations.
On market considerations: Condo’s holy grail are his “Drawing Paintings”, executed between 2012 and 2013, which were usually complex compositions of intertwined figures. We are a bit later here, although it is still a very strong time for the artist and a fine example of one of his heads, which exemplifies the artist’s trademark “Psychological Cubism”. Condo also has a wonderful knack for being able to take every artist and make them their own, being both derivative and unique. I can’t think of any other artist who can make that claim. And finally, you have this whole bridge between abstraction and figuration. (This fabulous palette is very commercial too – I’m a big fan of green, especially with those gorgeous lush purple pops).
Chagall also has a strong market, but in limited nationalities. With Condo, the demand for the artist, spread across almost all buying regions, is literally insatiable. Another aspect regarding Condo commercially is that it is prolific but, counter-intuitively, it often makes a market. Still, some works are superior to others and with this image, when its market upheaval finally arrives, it is the one that will rise to the top. A major work by the artist continues to be an essential ingredient of any great collection, and I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. It’s about as blue chip as it gets. You’re looking at one of Condo’s paintings, and it could be by no one else. I don’t think market depth is there for Chagall, or ever will be. It just isn’t sexy enough for the new world order of shoppers.
On the price : I think the Chagall will sell according to its estimate – it is still a very elegant work by one of the masters of the 20th century.
With recent Asian museum and gallery exhibits for Condo, where his work is virtually impossible to access in the primary market, this piece looks like very good value and could definitely top the day’s estimate. , but probably not too much. Current primary canvases cost around $2 million, larger ones around $3 million, and although they are no longer as dramatic and cubist in style, the demand for these paintings continues to be insatiable. For that kind of money, I would much rather have a coveted 2013 head.
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