Artist Gerhard Richter, the world-famous German painter, has expressed his incredulity at the astronomical sums of money paid for his works, telling the German daily Die Zeit ‘The records keep being broken and every time my initial reaction is one of horror,’ stated the artist, after sale of one of his works for £30 million. The artist also called the art market “hopelessly excessive” and said that prices are rarely a reflection of quality.
The 83-year-old Richter, said that he had watched the outcome of a recent auction at Sotheby’s in London with horror after an anonymous buyer paid £30.4 million, €41 million, or $46.5 million, the 1986 oil-on-canvas, ‘Abstraktes Bild’. “We artists get next to nothing from such an auction. Except for a small morsel, all the profit goes to the seller,” Richter added.
The painting marked a radical departure for Richter, the work is one of the artist’s largest abstract paintings and one of his favourite pieces. When the same work was offered by Sotheby’s in 1999, it made $607,500 – which was at the time a record for an abstract piece by the artist. The price paid for ‘Abstraktes Bild’ amounted to a staggering 5,000-fold increase on the price he had originally sold it for, he said.
“The records keep being broken and every time my initial reaction is one of horror even if it’s actually welcome news. But there is something really shocking about the amount”, surprisingly, the artist went on to state that he believed people who paid so much money for his paintings were foolish, and foresaw that “when the art market corrects itself” prices for his art would crash.
The artist went on to state that he understood as much about the art market as he did “about Chinese or physics”, Richter added that contrary to popular belief he barely made any profit from the sale of such works, “We artists get next to nothing from such an auction. Except for a small morsel, all the profit goes to the seller,”
The artist has expressed his relief that he did not have much to do with the buying and selling process. “Luckily I can … shut my studio door on most of the discussion about the market and prices. I’m good at suppressing it,” stated the artist.
After admitting that it had been years since he had seen ‘Abstraktes Bild’ the artist remembered it being a “quite good” piece of art. Then, surprisingly, went on to comment that his painting ‘Domplatz, Mailand’ (Cathedral Square, Milan) which last year fetched €29 million at auction was not of the same quality.
“I found that odd,” he said of the sale of the painting. “I don’t think the picture is that great … when I heard what it had gone for at auction, I thought ‘that’s completely over the top’.”
Richter went on the express his confusion at the current importance of auctions. “It is really quite alarming, particularly when you take a look at the catalogues. They always send them to me and they get worse and worse. You cannot imagine what rubbish is offered, at prices that are rising all the time, many of the young artists go straight to auctions in order to earn the big bucks. So in contrast to the past artists cannot develop slowly. And the business is getting more anonymous. In the end it just comes down to the price.”
Richter said he had resigned himself to the fact that “hardly any one talks about art any more. Even in the arts pages of the broadsheets”, and that until the recent market interest in the artist’s work, he confirmed that often his works were among those bought as safe, tax-free capital investments and stored in art bunkers in east Asia or Switzerland.
In fact Richter attempted to alter the value of his works by offering a large number of paintings for low prices in an attempt to destabilise the market, and reduce what he sees as ridiculously high prices for his work – but the act completely backfired, “I made 100 small original paintings and sold them very cheaply. They sold immediately and promptly ended up being sold at auction … you cannot escape the market,” adding, “I don’t spend money on art, I like looking at paintings, but I go to a museum to do so. I don’t have to own art myself.”
Photo: PC Robinson © artlyst 2015