"Good Deals: Part III"
In this, the third and final part of the series on "good deals" for today's art collectors, the Art Market Guide explores bodies of work by major artists in the upper price ranges. Once again, prices given here are based on current auction levels. Also, as always, it is important to remember that the best deals are those where you buy quality works and pay the going rate. In this day and age, with information being so readily available, both collectors and dealers are unusually well-informed about what works of art are worth. The good news is that there are no surprises. The bad news is don't expect to steal a deal.
Works of Art, $250,000-$500,000 Jasper Johns -- Small "Facial Parts" paintings Why: It may seem funny to see the exalted name of Jasper Johns appear on a list like this. However, during the mid-1980s, Johns did a series of encaustic works loosely based on Picasso's Woman in Straw Hat (1936). While the artist's homage to Picasso is effective, what really makes the series is the mysterious presence of Johns' watch pinned to his studio wall. This reference to time recalls his "sweep-of-the-hand" iconography of the 1960s. These paintings are sleepers and can occasionally be bought for $500,000 (see Christie's, May 2003). But not for long.
Carl Andre -- "Plains" Why: During the late 1960s, Andre's radical exploitation of "flat three-dimensional space" altered the flow of contemporary sculpture. His finest series, known as the "Plains," placed multi-colored metal tiles (copper, aluminum, steel, magnesium, etc.) in a checkerboard pattern (see Sotheby's, May 2002). The viewer was encouraged to walk on these metal carpets, helping to burnish the surface of the work. Prices for the "Plains" have been held down because collectors need floor space in excess of six feet square in order to let the work breathe. There are very few of these sculptures left in private hands. Currently, they bring $400,000-$550,000. Look for them to go for $1,000,000 within five years.
Duane Hanson -- figurative sculpture Why: Discovered by Ivan Karp, Hanson became the Photorealist sculptor of record (along with John de Andrea). As everyone knows, Hanson originally cast his figures in fiberglass, painted them in a life-like manner, and further enhanced the illusion by dressing them with previously worn clothing. What made the work succeed was his penchant for portraying individuals from ordinary walks of life -- flea market vendors, secretaries, bank guards and so on. Hanson's comment on the human condition resonates beyond the initial "gee whiz" response to the work. Despite Charles Saatchi's attempt to hoard Hanson works, the market still hasn't moved up from its $250,000-$350,000 range. It should be only a matter of time until it goes to the next level.
Joseph Cornell -- "Bird Boxes" (Aviaries) Why: It blows my mind that whenever a rare Cornell "Bird Box" appears at auction, it averages only $350,000-$400,000 (see Christie's, May 2003). These days, that sum barely buys a small painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Cornell's miniature nostalgic environments are highly original developments in the history of art. Although works from the Medici series bring more money, the Birds conjure up more visual allegories. While Cornell created approximately 2,000 boxes during his career (and roughly 1,000 collages), an educated guess is that were only 30 Bird Boxes -- and many are in museums. If a major Medici box comes up to auction, it could bring $1 million. At that point, look for the Birds to soar over $500,000.
John Chamberlain -- large sculpture Why: Until recently, Chamberlain's large crushed auto metal sculptures have been virtual give-aways at auction, averaging only $150,000. Those days are over (see Christie's, May 2003). However, even at this new price level of $300,000-$450,000, his work still has room for financial growth. The reason is that he is the only major sculptor who has successfully incorporated color. Sure, Joel Shapiro and Mark di Suvero use color, but it's a less integral part of their work. Chamberlain's sculpture incorporates the best of both worlds -- color and structure.
Richard Estes -- urban landscapes Why: Estes's paintings look better and better as time goes on. They serve as faithful reminders that the centuries-old tradition of realism is still alive and well. Estes's uncanny ability to focus the viewer on the magic of simply walking down a city street is admirable. His paintings highlight the abstract qualities inherent in the best realism -- in Estes's case, the distorted reflections from window glass. Considering how time-consuming his art is to create, it's no surprise that there are relatively few paintings that come on the market. While they're not inexpensive at $250,000-$450,000 (see Christie's, May 2002), they should sell for an average of $500,000 by 2008.
RICHARD POLSKY is the author of I Bought Andy Warhol (Abrams). An excerpt can be read from accessing Artnet Magazine's archives. Questions or comments: Polskyart@aol.com.