From the premiere of the Nasher Collection in Dallas to the recent opening of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art, sculpture has been increasingly in the news. Given that there is so little quality sculpture around, the question for collectors becomes which artists you should buy. Although there are some attractive up and coming sculptors, this article will feature only those who have been tested at auction. The following (listed in alphabetical order) is a short tip sheet with appropriate comments on some of the leading contemporary sculptors.
"BUY" Carl Andre -- Still a bargain. Along with Donald Judd, he is the artist most responsible for the radical shift in our perception of what can be considered sculpture. His metal floor pieces are contemporary classics.
Richard Artschwager -- Artschwager's brilliance is his ability to transform objects from everyday life into Minimalist sculpture of the highest order. His Formica-clad tables, chairs and mirrors have stood the test of time.
John Chamberlain -- Despite a recent surge in prices at auction, his work still has room for financial growth. The work itself carries off the neat trick of being superbly decorative while retaining its tough edge.
Dan Flavin -- Flavin is finally getting his due at auction, but his market still has a ways to go. The gorgeous installation of his work at Dia:Beacon and the separate building devoted to him at the Menil Collection in Houston reaffirms his importance.
Robert Gober -- Though as much a conceptual artist as a sculptor, his three-dimensional creations are thought-provoking, beautifully constructed by hand and hard to acquire -- and should remain so into the distant future.
Donald Judd -- A no-brainer. Even though he's now expensive at auction, the work is so strong and original, that it will easily hold its value (though the great leaps in price appreciation are probably over).
Claes Oldenburg -- A great artist who is probably the top living sculptor of outdoor works -- if viewer enjoyment is the main criteria. The question remains, what does his collaborator Coosje van Bruggen actually contribute to the work?
Julian Schnabel -- As mentioned in the last installment of the "Art Market Guide," Schnabel's richly patinated monumental sculpture is both authentic and well-priced.
Joel Shapiro -- Continues to produce quality sculpture. His work is equally good whether fabricated for outdoor placement or indoor display.
Andy Warhol -- Yes, Andy Warhol. His Brillo Boxes and Kellogg's Corn Flake Boxes are bona fide 1960s Pop sculpture of a high order. They are still undervalued.
"HOLD" Deborah Butterfield -- It's hard to find fault with an artist who is so good at what she does. Some equate her horses with Morandi's still lifes -- through repetition and slight variation comes subliminal beauty. Time will tell in Butterfield's case.
Mark di Suvero -- Although highly respected, he would rate higher if he developed his own forms rather than relying on pre-existing elements (construction girders).
Damien Hirst -- His elaborate stainless steel and glass cabinets, which contain everything from pills to animal skeletons, are visually stunning. His formaldehyde-encased sharks and cows have become, like Koons's floating basketballs, icons of contemporary art. Still, I'd like to have another look at how the market views Hirst ten years from now.
Robert Indiana -- His recent re-emergence in the art world has been spearheaded by the fabrication of large outdoor sculptures of his signature "Love" image along with a group of "Numerals." Though they have a pleasing whimsical quality, these 1960s designs would feel a lot more genuine if they had been constructed when they were conceived.
Jeff Koons -- His stainless steel bunny and stainless steel balloon dogs are terrific. His flower encrusted puppy, installed at Rockefeller Center and elsewhere, was a tour de force. However, his kitsch porcelains, such as Michael Jackson and Bubbles, are grossly overpriced.
Sol Le Witt -- An artist whose legacy will be his magnificent wall drawings, not his soulless open white cubes and iceberg forms.
Richard Serra -- Despite being hailed by many as America's greatest living sculptor, it's hard to believe that there will be a strong resale market for his imposing sculptures. Obstacles include prices of $2 million-plus, space considerations and necessary safety precautions.
"SELL" Fernando Botero -- How many museums own a Botero? Of those that do, how many display them?
Barry Flanagan -- Giant bronze rabbits who play tambourines make for humorous but lightweight sculpture.
RICHARD POLSKY is the author of a recent book on the art market, I Bought Andy Warhol (Abrams). Questions or comments: Polskyart@aol.com.
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