I read with interest your profile on Sean Scully in your recent Art Market Guide 2001 column. As you yourself know (though some of your readers may not), auction records are only one part of the financial valuation of an artist's work. The artist's exhibition record, the public and private collections in which his or her work is represented, critical support for the work, and the usual fair-market selling price of works as well as their relative availability or scarcity are all important factors in establishing fair market value. Even so, your article omitted some recent auction sales, such as Darling, which sold for $108,000 in London in 1998, and Black Red, which sold for $107,000.
Consider for a moment a rather more intangible factor that also contributes to value -- among the painters of his generation, none have anything like Scully's museum exhibition record. In the last few years alone, shows of his work have been presented at museums such as the Galerie Nationale de Jeu de Paume, the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, the Albertina, the Guggenheim Foundation and more, all of which are certainly considered to be among the world's most important cultural institutions.
Currently, the Kunstammlung Nordhein Westfalen has a survey show of Scully's works from the 1990s, and Michael Auping is preparing a show of the artist's "Wall of Light" paintings for the MARCO in Monterrey, Mexico.
Similarly, in the past few years, important works have entered the collections of museums around the world, none of which could remotely be called proponents of "neck-tie" art. Clearly, the esthetic quality of his painting and its contribution to contemporary art have been recognized and acknowledged.
With regard to the private market, our gallery -- Galerie Lelong, which has branches both here in New York and in Paris -- routinely sells works by the artist in the price range of $130,000-$150,000. Larger works, which are primarily reserved for museums, sell for over $200,000. At present, we have no works we can offer to the many clients waiting for paintings. In conjunction with our recent exhibition of Scully's works on paper and photographs (which ran Mar. 10-Apr. 21, 2001), Knoedler & Company also presented a show of recent paintings by Scully called "Light & Gravity" (on view through Apr. 28). All but one painting is sold, and that work is on reserve to a museum.
Clearly, all this activity is sign of the overall health of the artist's market. In fact, one might conclude that the dearth of records at auction indicates that clients value their paintings and want to hold onto to them. The record of private sales shows that the market is consistent and dominated by individuals who collect art as part of their intellectual and esthetic enjoyment, not for speculative purposes, which, as you rightly point out, is the death of any artist's
Finally, I would agree with your advice to readers to "hold" Scully's work, and not only because paintings and objects of true quality always increase their value with time. Unfortunately, because of the keen interest relative to the works available, chances are, I won't be able to offer the collector another painting with which to replace the one they own.
20 West 57th Street
New York, NY l0019
Thank you for taking the time to comment on my Sean Scully article. Many of your points are well taken. The problem with commenting on the primary market of an artist is that no one can (or wants to) substantiate prices. As a result, I'm forced to work mostly with auction results.
Also, putting aside market concerns, I do happen to like Scully's paintings and think he's one of America's finest abstract painters.