An unprecedented number of high-priced artworks by Gerhard Richter will be on offer at the fall auctions in New York.
Although Christie’s had to manage without any Richter at all at its Post-War & Contemporary Art evening sale last October in London, it is now able to offer four large and smaller works of the artist in its November auction in New York. Phillips also put forward four works and Sotheby’s has as many as 10 works up for grabs. Altogether four of the works coming up at the November auctions are estimated at around US$20 million (€18 million).
Why are there so many Richter works coming up for auction? And why in New York and not in London? One of the reasons for the sale happening in New York might be the Artist’s Resale Right. In all EU member states, including – at least for the next two years – the UK, these royalty payments are due if a work is sold through a professional art dealer or auction house. Depending on the hammer price, a surcharge of up to 4% but not more than €12,500 is applied. In the US, these resale royalty payments, which the buyer has to pay, are only applied in the state of California. If someone is happy to pay as much as €20 million for a painting, an additional €12,500 should hardly matter, but then again, perhaps it will.
Another important question is why so many Richter paintings are finding their way onto the auction market at the moment. Do the personnel changes at the big auction houses have something to do with it? All these top-level former employees of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips are trying to impress their new bosses – and what better way than by bringing in one or two large, hopefully art historically relevant and therefore very expensive works by one of the most important contemporary artists? It’s also the case that for many years, Richter’s works have been achieving ever higher prices. Even the most hesitant owner of a work might think about selling now, fearful that the boom might soon be over.
Another reason why there were so few works at the London auctions is probably Brexit and its impact on the economy. However, if anyone has withheld works to test the market, they may find they have made a costly mistake in light of the recent US election. Even before Trump’s victory it was by no means clear whether the Richter market would be able to absorb that many high-priced paintings.
Richter himself will not be concerned either way; he regards the prices that his works fetch with utter incomprehension.