Gerhard Richter Announced His Retirement From Painting in 2017. Since Then, His Auction Sales Have More Than Doubled

We examined the artist's market on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

A trio of Gerhard Richters, Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction (October 14). Courtesy Sotheby's.

Last week, Gerhard Richter—one of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries—celebrated his 90th birthday. In his native Germany and abroad, a host of galleries and institutions lauded his six-decade career with special exhibitions demonstrating the breadth of his oeuvre. Richter himself curated a show of landscapes and family portraits at the Albertinum Museum in his hometown of Dresden; Sies and Höke gallery mounted a show of drawings, his new favorite medium; and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin took a deep dive into his artist books.

We thought long and hard about what to get Richter for his birthday over at Artnet News Pro, and decided to gift wrap our findings from a deep dive into his market via the Artnet Price Database. HBD Gerhard!

 

The Context

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

Auction record: $46.4 million achieved at Sotheby’s London in February 2015

Richter’s Performance in 2021

Lots sold: 270
Bought in: 47
Sell-through rate: 85 percent
Average sale price: $915,947
Mean estimate: $737,235
Total sales: $ 247.3 million
Top painting price: $33 million
Lowest painting price: $32,033
Lowest overall price: $924, for a color photograph from 2013

 

The Appraisal

  1. Salad Days. Richter’s market saw its heyday between 2012, when his cumulative auction sales peaked at $298.9 million, and 2015, when his $46.4 million auction record was set. 
  2. Appetite for Abstraction. The market has historically been hungriest for the artist’s squeegeed abstractions: of the 29 works that have fetched more than $20 million, 23 were abstract. But after Richter’s major Tate Modern retrospective in 2015, prices for these large pictures began to plateau, perhaps because demand satisfied supply
  3. Market Resuscitation. In 2021, Richter’s market perked up, notching $247.3 million in total sales—up 89 percent from 2019 and 140 percent from 2020. Even his abstracts got a bit of a bump, with one from the Macklowe collection bringing in $33 million, the highest price for the artist at auction since 2016. Richter was the second best-selling figure in the postwar category in 2021, bested only by Andy Warhol, and the sixth best performer at auction overall. 
  4. Still Relevant. Some 15,683 users searched for Richter in the Artnet Price database in 2021, making him the seventh most-searched artist that year. More than 1,300 people searched for him in January 2022.
  5. Beyond the Trophies. There is much more to the Richter market than the multimillion-dollar abstracts. In 2021, his average sale price of $915,947 was the highest it has been since 2014, and a 62.2 percent jump from the average sale price in 2015, when his auction record was set.

 

The Bottom Line

Gerhard Richter is one of the most important artists of our time, and his market reflects that. For now, his abstract paintings remain the biggest prizes, but there is a robust market for smaller abstractions in the $10 million-and-under range as well as for the monumental canvases.

Just don’t forget there is more to Richter than the squeegee. He was for a long time most celebrated for figurative paintings and landscapes—his second highest price was achieved for one of his 1960s photo paintings—and his acclaimed “Birkenau” series was a focal point of the Met’s 60-year Richter survey in 2020. 

The artist officially retired from painting in 2017 and has since turned his attention to drawing. This limit on supply could go some way toward explaining the revived market activity in 2021. As a slew of exhibitions to mark his 90th birthday explore the breadth of his oeuvre, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the market continue to climb. 


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