COLOGNE, Germany – Even with world unrest and a shaky economy, art auction houses in Germany are reporting strong year-end prices. The German Expressionist painters continue to be favored; an original the size of a postcard marked by their hand can fetch thousands of euros.
At the same time, work by German artists from the 1970s ZERO movement has become highly sought after. The minimalist works create a stir at auction, and have bidders opening their wallets ever wider.
The 250th auction at Villa Grisebach, Berlin, was celebrated with two spectacular results: The sketchy 1939 Bildnis eines jungen Mädchens (Picture of a Young Girl) by Max Beckmann brought 1.23 million euros ($1.3 million), and Helles Sonnenblumenbild, a brushy and spontaneous painting of sunflowers by Emil Nolde, brought 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million). These two purchases by private collectors in Germany and Switzerland were a respectable portion of the 11.4 million euro ($12.5 million) auction total.
Ketterer Kunst in Munich set a world record price for the ZERO artist Otto Piene. Dynamisches Volumen, a work from the early 1960s, was contested by distance bidders, finally going to a German collector for 825,000 euros ($900,700). A second work by Piene, Wave of Darkness, was sold for 625,000 euros ($682,400) after fierce competition among bidders from Belgium, Hong Kong and Germany. The auctions included 130 works by artists associated with the ZERO movement, whose prices have increased dramatically over the last few years. The December modern and contemporary art auctions at Ketterer Kunst took in a total of 24 million euros ($26.2 million), with works by Erich Heckel, Lyonel Feininger and Alfons Walde bringing top results.
The art auction house Van Ham had an interesting record to report. Never did the Cologne auction house have a sale with a total of 19 six-figure results. But their contemporary and modern art auction saw 19 pieces reach or surpass the 100,000 euro mark ($109,205). Gabriele Münter, Lovis Corinth and Heinz Mack were among the highly sought-after German painters. The sale brought in a total of 9.4 million euros ($10.3 million).
In their modern, contemporary and photography auctions, Kunsthaus Lempertz reported an international record price set for a drawing by August Macke, Spaziergänger unter Bäumen /Leute vor dem Schaufenster, selling for 273,000 euros ($298,000), well over its estimate of 150,000-200,000 euro ($164,000-$218,000). An international record price was also reached for the 1929 black and white photograph Bäumchen by Albert Renger-Patzsch. Estimated at 20,000-30,000 euros ($22,000-$32,800), the photograph of a young cherry tree fetched 136,400 euros ($148,940).
Lempertz’s Asian Art Auction in Cologne saw a serene 21-cm (8.4-in) gilt bronze sculpture (below) of Buddha Amitayus – the Buddha of Infinite Life – shoot past its estimate of 30,000-40,000 Euro ($33,000-$43,700) to finish at 155,000 euros ($169,200). A bidder in Hong Kong won the turquoise inlaid Tibetan figure, which dated to the 15th or 16th century.
At Quittenbaum Art Auctions, Munich, a flurry of interest was shown in works from the estate of Expressionism collector Elsa Hopf. Postcards colorfully drawn by Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, which had never before appeared in the art market, were snapped up by enthusiastic dealers, museums and private collectors. What was estimated to sell for 6,000-8,000 euros ($7,000-$8,700), such as Heckel’s postcard, Reclining Female Nude with Dog, was quickly bid up to 32,000 euros ($34,900). Karl Schmidt Rottluff’s postcard featured on the cover of the Quittenbaum catalog, a virtual miniature of German Brücke Expressionism, brought the highest price at 53,000 euros ($57,900). The card featured an angular reclining female nude (below) and was mailed to Hopf in 1911.
In other sales of note, an unusual French automaton (below) in fully functional condition fetched 135,000 euros ($147,000) at Auction Team Breker. The iconic moon-faced gentleman wearing a top hat, created by Gustave Vichy around 1891, had a clever bellows system allowing it to inhale and exhale smoke.
Breker ended the year by selling a 1971 8-bit personal computer that predated the Apple-1 by five years. The kit computer designed by American John Blankenbaker of the Kenbak Corp. in 1971, was bought by a European museum for 41,800 euros ($45,500).
Must See Exhibits:
The 1927 Pfeilerhalle of the Grassimuseum, Leipzig, is the setting for their new Art Déco exhibit. The epoch is documented with 450 objects, from cameras to cocktail trays, in metal, glass and ceramic. www.grassimuseum.de
The Russian Avant Gardes is the topic of the new exhibit at the Albertina in Vienna. From “Chagall to Malevich” illustrates the differences in styles and ideas of this epoch through 140 master works. wwwAlbertina.at
The Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin-Kreuzberg, hosts “Art of Prehistoric Times: Rock Paintings from the Frobenius Collection,” primitive examples from Europe, Africa and Australia. www.berlinerfestspiele.de
From Feb. 26, 2016, visitors to the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt will be treated to a comprehensive exhibit on Joan Miro. The 50 artworks are being loaned from museums around the world. www.Schirn.de
By HEIDI LUX