Millionaires Love Richard Prince and Christopher Wool

The scorecard from last week's record spring auctions.

On the eve of the major New York contemporary auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s last week, we took a look at the markets for Richard Prince and Christopher Wool. They are two of the current top-selling artists, and we wondered which one would do best in the evening sales.

After last week, the auction totals left them within an inch of each other: $34.75 million for Wool on expectations of $26–39 million, and $37.8 million for Prince, as compared with an overall low/high estimate of $27–36.5 million.

For each artist, the auctions tested some key price points. Both artists came through with flying colors. All but one Prince work found buyers. Wool’s six works were 100 percent sold.

At Christie’s new contemporary sale on Monday, May 12, Prince’s Nurse of Greenmeadow (2002) sold for $8.6 million on an estimate of $7–9 million, a hair above the previous Nurse painting record of $8.5 million set at Sotheby’s London in 2008. The painting that inspired the title of the sale, Prince’s If I Die (1990), sold for $4.6 million on an estimate of $3.5–4.5 million. This marks a new record for a Joke painting; the previous high price was $3.2 million set at Sotheby’s New York in 2010 for White Woman (1990) on a $2.5–3.5 million estimate.

At the same sale, Wool’s 1992 Word painting If You (the full text in block letters tells the viewer “If you can’t take a joke you can get the fuck out of my house”), sold for $23.7 million to dealer Larry Gagosian (estimate: $20–30 million). This suggests to many that it was not a fluke when Wool’s market took a giant leap this past November with the sale of Apocalypse Now (1988), which sent his auction record soaring to $26.5 million from around $7 million.

SothLot 443 Wool

Christopher Wool, Untitled (S112) (1993) sold for $821,00 at Sotheby’s contemporary day sale on May 15.
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Meanwhile, Wool’s abstract paintings, while nowhere near the lofty level of his Word paintings, continued to sell well. One sold at the same record-setting sale on May 13 at Christie’s, an untitled enamel-on-linen from 2004 that brought $3.97 million, nearly doubling the high $2 million estimate and notching a new record for a Wool abstract. The previous record  for a Wool abstract was $3.7 million, set just last year.

As for Prince, before the auction week, Christie’s senior contemporary specialist Loïc Gouzer accurately predicted that the relatively large offering of his works—five in Gouzer’s Monday sale alone—was fine because of the breadth of the material, noting, “If you have the right works, you can have this many without losing strength.”

The Prince market responded admirably. Along with “Nurse” and “Joke”paintings, Christie’s tested the market for Prince’s “Cowboy” photographs, images appropriated from Marlboro cigarette ads, with an untitled 1988 Ektachrome print that sold for $3.75 million on an estimate of $3–4 million.

Much like the new Nurse record, it slightly eclipsed the previous record for a Cowboy image; $3.4 million, set for Untitled (Cowboy) (2001–2002), an Ektachrome print sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2007.

     $3,749,000 (Set Currency) Estimate     $3,000,000 - $4,000,000 Untitled (Cowboy) signed, numbered and dated 'R Prince 1998 proof # one' (upper edge) Ektacolor print 58 5/8 x 39 in. (149 x 99 cm.) Executed in 1998.

Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy) (1998) sold for $3.75 million at the Christie’s special evening sale on May 12.
Photo: Courtesy Christie’s.


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