A Buyer’s Guide to the Venice Biennale: What Collectors Need to Know About the (Technically) Noncommercial Event
We delved into the markets of eight artists representing their countries at the Venice Biennale. Here's a guide to their most sought-after works.
As the 58th Venice Biennale opens this week, you are likely to begin hearing the familiar refrain that this most prestigious event on the global contemporary art calendar—also known as “the Olympics of the art world”—is all about the art, not the market. By now, however, most have come to acknowledge that this is nonsense.
Out of the dozens of biennials held across the globe each year, the one in Venice—both through its central exhibition and individual national pavilions—offers the most influential stamp of approval. Its top award, the Golden Lion, is the closest equivalent to an Oscar (or even Nobel Prize) that the field has to offer.
Sure, the biennale, which runs this year from May 11 to November 24, is not so crude as to put prices on the walls or red dots on works sold. But gallerists—who have often contributed to the funding of the ambitious works on view—will be very much on the ground, hosting parties and wooing collectors.
Works in Venice aren’t always the most commercially attractive, since they are often sprawling, conceptual installations. But you’ll undoubtedly notice plenty more wall-friendly work by these same artists at the Art Basel fair in Switzerland, which welcomes VIPs a few short weeks after the biennale’s grand opening.
“If galleries aren’t bringing works by their Venice artists [to Art Basel], then there is something wrong with their sales strategy,” says Louise Hayward, director at London’s Lisson Gallery, which represents Laure Prouvost, the official artist of France’s national pavilion this year.
Some collectors, meanwhile, prefer to hunt at the biennale for historic showpieces, however ambitious—or ungainly—they might be. Just ask Belgian collector Alain Servais, who once phrased the appeal of buying from Venice this way: “Do you want the derivative works—do you want the t-shirt versions that you can buy at Frieze and Basel—or do you want the original one? The big boys, they prefer the originals.”
With all this in mind, we selected eight national pavilion artists who are likely to be among the stars of this year’s Venice Biennale and then delved into their markets to provide a buyer’s guide to their most sought-after works.
While the event was still being finalized at press time, several themes are clear this year. More women, more artists of color, and a generally older and more politically aware crowd can be expected to be on view in the Giardini’s pavilions. This chimes with the current deliberate market mood, and suggests the burgeoning appetite for more sober, revisionist, and thoughtful art will continue to take root further into 2019.
Renate Bertlmann (b. 1943)
Best known for: Confrontational, second-wave feminist, edgy installation works that fuse objects associated with masculine and feminine sexuality
Gallery affiliation: Galerie Steinek (Vienna), Richard Saltoun (London)
Most wanted: Her latex pieces—dildos, teats, condoms—were once banned from exhibition, but are now prized. Dallas collector Marguerite Hoffman owns Bertlmann’s 120-piece installation Washing Day (1976–77), a series of skinlike items hung across five clotheslines that was included in the 2014 Gwangju Biennale. Meanwhile, Bertlmann’s 53 staged photographs Verwandlungen (Transformations) (1969) proved popular at Frieze London in 2017.
Price points: Bertlmann “didn’t have much of a market originally,” says Niamh Coghlan, sales director at Richard Saltoun gallery. But prices have shot up in recent years as both collectors and institutions engaged more deeply with postwar feminism. All three editions of the Verwandlungen photographs, for instance, have sold, plus the artist’s proof. Coghlan now values these sets at around £45,000. Individual latex works are available for between £7,000 and £10,000, moving up to six-figures for full versions.
Up next: Bertlmann’s first-ever museum solo exhibition will debut at the new Landesgalerie Niederösterreich in Krems, Austria, on May 25 (running through September 29).
Also worth knowing: Bertlmann is the first solo female artist to represent Austria at the Venice Biennale.
Enrico David (b. 1966)
Representing: Italy, with Liliana Moro (b. 1971) and Chiara Fumai (1978–2017)
Best known for: Representing the human body with a queer narrative across several media, including sculpture and tapestry
Gallery affiliation: Michael Werner gallery (London, New York)
Most wanted: David’s drawings sell well, and nearly all of his works begin with a preparatory work on paper. Having appeared at auction just 23 times since 2002, his work is fairly rare-to-market, with the best-sellers being his attractive thread-and-wool works on canvas. His auction record is just under $45,000 for Dinnisblumen (1999), a surreal painting of a svelte figure with one leg in the air. The canvas sold at Phillips in London in 2009—the same year David was nominated for the Turner Prize. Longstanding collectors of his more ambitious works include Vancouver’s Rennie Collection and the Maramotti family, founders of Italy’s luxury fashion business Max Mara.
Price points: At Art Basel Miami Beach in December, Michael Werner gallery sold David drawings priced at $15,000, paintings between $50,000 and $70,000, and sculptures for up to $150,000.
Up next: Interest in the Italian-born, London-based artist is growing across the Atlantic, and David’s first major retrospective in the US is on view now at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC (through September 2).
Also worth knowing: David’s work is often described as “tough”—Gordon VeneKlasen at Michael Werner says “he deals with the body on earth, which isn’t always a pretty picture.”
Inci Eviner (b. 1956)
Best known for: Socio-politically engaged videos, performances, and architectural structures that often challenge how women have been traditionally portrayed
Gallery affiliation: Galeri Nev (Istanbul) since 1989 with overseas support from Pearl Lam (multiple locations in Asia) and Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art (Salzburg)
Most wanted: Collectors favor her videos, black-and-white drawings, and canvas works. Her market to date has mostly been local, though early buyers also included Deutsche Bank’s corporate collection.
Price points: Eviner’s prices have only gently increased over the past 30 years. Her large canvases are now priced around €25,000 to €30,000, while videos range from €30,000 to €50,000. On the secondary market, 14 of works have sold at Turkish auction houses for between $2,477 and $26,048, the latter price for a black-and-white acrylic from 2011 that sold after her Venice representation was announced.
Up next: Eviner’s Venice project will incorporate videos, drawings, and sound into her own architectural setting, reflecting her “wide imagination,” says Haldun Dostoglu, co-founder of Galeri Nev.
Also worth knowing: Last year, Eviner’s video work was included in both the Liverpool and Gwangju biennials.
Voluspa Jarpa (b. 1971)
Best known for: Expansive, quietly activist projects based on revelations the artist has sourced from declassified archives from the CIA and other intelligence agencies
Gallery affiliation: Patricia Ready (Santiago), Mor Charpentier (Paris)
Most wanted: Jarpa has been making archive-based works since 2009, and buyers include “all the major Latin American art collectors,” says Philippe Charpentier, co-founder of Mor Charpentier. Although contemporary-art buyers in her home country of Chile remain scarce, her work has been acquired by collectors in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina. It is also represented in San Francisco’s Kadist Collection and the Blanton Museum of Art in Texas. Jarpa is lesser known in Europe, though that can be expected to change with the biennale.
Price points: Jarpa’s small installations and drawings sell for between $4,000 and $7,000 while the major works fetch up to $45,000.
Up next: Venice marks a new phase in Jarpa’s practice, as she closes the chapter on intelligence-archive investigations and is now focused on today’s so-called crisis of masculinity. The biennale also marks a return to painting, her original format and one that is also likely to prove more market-friendly.
Also worth knowing: Jarpa came to the art world’s attention at the Istanbul Biennial in 2011 with Biblioteca de No Historia (Library of No History, 2010), a compilation of documents relating to the Chilean dictatorship.
Charlotte Prodger (b. 1974)
Best known for: Winning last year’s Turner Prize with Bridgit (2016), a filmic mediation on landscape made entirely on the artist’s iPhone
Gallery affiliation: Koppe Astner (Glasgow), Hollybush Gardens (London)
Most wanted: Prodger’s works—described as “video sculptures”—have to date mostly been placed in public institutions that are au fait with the moving image. Museums in Glasgow, where Prodger lives, have been “particularly supportive,” says Emma Astner, co-founder of Koppe Astner. Astner describes Prodger’s market as “healthy” and notes that while video tends to be a tougher sell, there is a growing interest in the moving image. In fact, the four nominees for the 2018 Turner Prize were all filmmakers.
Price points: Prodger’s works sell for between £7,000 and £50,000.
Up next: Prodger’s work is included in a group show at Lismore Castle Arts in Ireland alongside contributions by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Martine Syms, and Nicole Eisenman (“Palimpsest,” through October 13).
Also worth knowing: Prodger burst onto the international art scene when her film Colon Hyphen Asterix (2012) was shown at the Centre for Contemporary Arts during that year’s Glasgow International. Tate recently bought this work through Hollybush Gardens for £35,000 and fragments from it reappear in Bridgit.
Laure Prouvost (b. 1978)
Best known for: Surreal, playful films, performances, and immersive installations that investigate language and blur fiction and reality
Gallery affiliation: Natalie Obadia (Paris), Lisson Gallery (London), Carlier | Gebauer (Berlin)
Most wanted: Prouvost’s quirky, distinctive works have attracted a loyal if niche following. Private buyers love her “Metal People” sculptures—stick figures with eerily appropriate flatscreen heads. A number of her larger, film-based installations have found homes in Italy; Wantee, which unexpectedly won her the Turner Prize in 2013, is now in the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin. Further afield, work by Prouvost is also in Beijing’s Red Brick Art Museum, which hosted her first show in China in 2016.
Price points: Works range from €10,000 for small paintings and ceramics to about €200,000 for the major installations. The “Metal People” works fetched about €25,000 on the primary market, though this series is sold out, according to Lisson.
Up next: It’s looking like a busy year for Prouvost, who has her largest solo show to date at the M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, the city where she now lives (through May 19). For Venice, the pavilion’s organizers have promised a fictional film that questions the biennale’s concept of national representation and which will take the form of “an invitation to melt into a liquid and tentacular universe.”
Also worth knowing: Last year, Prouvost invited an opera singer to roam the aisles of Frieze London, turning overheard snippets of conversation into song. Vocalized phrases ranged from “What is she singing?” to “Have you watched [the Great British] Bake-Off?”
Martin Puryear (b. 1941)
Representing: United States
Best known for: Doing wonderful things with wood and fusing Modernism with craft in his elegant, elegiac sculptures
Gallery affiliation: Matthew Marks
Most wanted: Puryear, now 77 and working in upstate New York, has always had a very limited output, so generally whatever he makes is sought-after. Puryear’s work is already well appreciated (his landmark US retrospective toured through MoMA in 2007) but the African American history he references is likely to be newly appealing to collectors as the market continues its reassessment of the importance of black artists. Puryear’s collector base is mostly in the US, where his works helped inaugurate the expanded Glenstone Museum in Maryland. He has had dedicated European buyers too, including Italy’s Giuseppe and Giovanna Panza, whose collection includes the painted pine “Ring” sculpture, Cerulean (1982).
Price points: Primary-market prices remain a closely held secret, although one source estimates that domestic-scale sculptures range from $475,000 to $650,000. At auction, Puryear’s prices have grown steadily—the artist’s sculptures were commanding six-figure sums as far back as 1996. The wall-mounted “Ring” sculptures made in the 1970s and ‘80s dominate his top auction sales, including his bass wood Fraught (1983), which sold for $907,500 at Christie’s in 2016.
Up next: “He gets hundreds of requests [for shows], but is totally focused on Venice,” says Stephanie Dorsey, senior director at Matthew Marks. Most of the eight sculptures that will be shown in Puryear’s pavilion were in the works before he was invited to represent the US, according to the New York Times. Two were made for the occasion, including a monumental, two-part collaboration with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects: a perforated screen made of wood and a dark arching form installed outside the entrance to the pavilion.
Also worth knowing: The museum-like US Embassy in Beijing just unveiled a 31-foot-high, stainless steel arch by Puryear in 2008.
Eva Rothschild (b. 1971)
Best known for: Immersive, angular sculptures that can defy gravity, including the black zig-zagging metal construction that sliced through Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries in 2009
Most wanted: Rothschild’s larger works have gone to institutions, while her smaller geometric pieces get snapped up by private buyers. Empire, the spider-like red, green, and black archways that graced New York’s Doris C. Freedman Plaza in 2011, has since been donated to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis by the Minnesota agriculture heiress Martha MacMillan.
Price points: Rothschild’s smaller works now start at £45,000, while an edition of five bronze boulder sculptures, The Hot Knife (2018), quickly sold out at London’s Modern Art stand at Art Basel, priced at £85,000 each. Larger works “go into the hundreds of thousands,” according to Stuart Shave, the gallery’s co-founder. Only 17 of Rothschild’s works have sold at auction, topped by the nine-foot-high Meta (2004), which fetched £43,400 in 2015.
Up next: For Venice, the London-based artist says, “I want to create an experience that is sculpturally excessive, critically aware, and welcoming to the viewer.”
Also worth knowing: Rothschild has a strong collector base in Australia, helped by her participation in the 19th Sydney Biennale in 2014.
A version of this story first appeared in the artnet Intelligence Report. For an in-depth look at the rise of KAWS, an examination of how to navigate the art market during a recession, and more must-read art-market data and analysis, download the report here.
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