With a major retrospective coming up at New York’s Met Breuer next year (4 March-5 July), plus his Seascapes at the Guggenheim Bilbao (until 9 September), the German artist Gerhard Richter is having another moment. At Art Basel this week, his work has been on show at the booths of David Zwirner and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, among others. On 11 June, David Zwirner sold Versammlung (1966) by Gerhard Richard for $20m. According to a gallery statement, the work "hadn't been seen outside of Italy in 40 years and hadn't been on the market for close to 50 years". It was consigned to the gallery by Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi, who are raising funds by the sale of this work for their cultural project in Palermo, the renovation of Palazzo Butera.
This is hardly a surprise: Richter is widely regarded as the world’s most important living painter and remains active despite his 87 years, if less prolific than in the past.
His body of work, which spans nearly six decades, has evolved over time, as he explores manifold ways of representing the world around him. This varies from the early blurred black-and-white paintings interrogating Germany’s attitudes to its own history, to landscapes, portraits, colour charts and what are probably the best-known and most expensive of his works, large-scale abstracts. These have become ultimate trophy pieces—inoffensive, colourful, easy to live with, and probably an asset class all their own.
Indeed, analysis by the team that maintains Richter’s website shows that in 2018, only 14% by value of his works offered at auction were bought in.
Collectors & Prices
The Richter market is global, says Cheyenne Westphal, the chairwoman of Phillips: “Buyers come from around the world– there’s a lot of interest for the abstracts from Asian buyers.”
Other abstracts have sold for between $28m and $34m, and represent nine of his top ten prices. But these were almost all set between 2012 and 2017, and such heights have not been reached since 2018. The use of red, almost inevitably, tends to increase value as well.
At the other end of the scale from these colossal prices, Richter has produced many giclée prints, and the availability of these editions means that buyers can start collecting at very low price points: under €1,000 for some offset prints of popular subjects such as his Seascapes.
Price charts compiled by Art Market Research show the extraordinary growth in the value of paintings since 2000—an astonishing 64,076% change since 1977, and an annual growth rate of 16.6%. As for the editions, these have grown by 8.9% since 1985.
Richter’s work is well documented. His works have all been numbered since 1962, and his official database at gerhard-richter.com gives meticulous information about each work, along with auction prices and whereabouts, if publicly accessible.
The Gerhard Richter Archive was established in Dresden in 2006, and the artist himself has published two catalogue raisonnés.
The abstracts are the most expensive works.
• Data by Art Market Research