Abstraction Pops Pop

by John Link

With White Gloves And Clean Aprons

on the block
On The Block

Abstraktes Bild (809-4), by Gerhard Richter, 1994, oil on canvas, 225x200 cm

La Riffian Assis, by Henri Matisse, 1912-13, oil on canvas, 200x160 cm

To Miz - Pax Vobiscum, by Hans Hofmann, 1964, oil on canvas, 196.5x212 cm

Back when Pop was the most expensive art on earth, Flag by Jasper Johns sold for $28.6 million, setting a new record for the most money paid for a work by a living artist. Let us welcome the new heavyweight champion of the art world, Abstraktes Bild (809-4), by Gerhard Richter, which just popped the highest price paid for a work by a living artist up by another $5.4 million. The purchase was made by an anonymous buyer bidding over the telephone, competing with a second anonymous telephone bidder. Who says abstraction is dead?

Not the aliens from other solar systems, who surely would say Abstraktes Bild (809-4) looks suspiciously like that old hat, supposedly irrelevant "modernism". Nor does Alex Branczik, senior director of Sotheby's, who uttered with great profundity "The combination of outstanding provenance and gold-standard quality in this sublime work by this blue-chip artist made for an historic auction moment." Historic indeed for seller Eric Clapton, who made a 1,000 percent profit on it, just 11 years after he bought it, showing once again the power of fine art to dominate the commodities market.

The fact is, the total value of Richter's works sold at auction in 2011 exceeded the totals for that year of Monet, Rothko, and Giacometti combined. Richter followed that achievement this year by literally and figuratively knocking Pop off its sacred pedestal with this picture described by Sothebey's as "calculated chaos" and a "paradigm of Gerhard Richter's mature artistic and philosophical achievement."

Myself, I have three things to say:
   1. Matisse and Hofmann added for comparison at the excellent suggestions of George Bethea and Darby Bannard.
   2. The malice of art is alive and well.
   3. Can you say LeRoy Neiman?

October 18, 2012

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