Growth In Lesser Works by Major Artists

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on middle market collectors pursuing lower grade works from major artists.  Art experts, the article states are concerned of the growing interest and collecting trends in lower level, "irrelevant and lacking in "merit" works. The auction houses are taking not of the trends, seeking these works as well, not to sell in the important evening sales, but for the new online only sales.

The works include pieces such as sketches, prints and other miscellaneous types of works which used to be boxed and stored in archives are now finding a market.  There are warning signs as well, as these types of items grow in popularity with collectors and in value, they are easy to fake and produce. As always, let the buyer beware.

The Wall Street Journal reports
As prices for blue-chip artists often climb into the tens of millions of dollars, the art world is offering up works that just a few years ago may not have been deemed worthy for sale. Small items—overlooked gems, dashed-off scribbles, even scraps artists may have assumed were headed for the garbage—are increasingly being auctioned off to an eager and growing audience.

Cheaper, minor artworks by major blue-chip artists have opened up a new market for first-time collectors. An inside look at the Andy Warhol small-works sale underway at Christie's Auction House.
In the last year, a Florida couple successfully bid on their first work of art—a postage-stamp sized sketch by Pierre-Auguste Renoir—for $6,250. At another auction, a signed napkin Andy Warhol covered with squiggly lines fetched $1,395. For less than $4,000 each, collectors nabbed a Pablo Picasso ceramic bowl emblazoned with a bullfighter and letters Henri Matisse adorned with fanciful doodles.

The sales defy a maxim of the art market: Buy the best works possible, not lesser pieces by bigger stars. But for many people, the bragging rights of owning your very own Renoir or Edgar Degas, even if it is just a doodle, are irresistible.

There is also a potential pay off: At Christie's, a simple terra-cotta limited-edition tile by Picasso that fetched less than $1,000 in 2010 can now sell for double that at auction, according to specialists. A Warhol cow wallpaper print that typically sold for around $5,000 a few years ago now can fetch $20,000 or more. Big gains can also be found outside an artist's primary medium: Alexander Calder's brooches were attainable for $10,000 before 2000, but lately have cleared $100,000.

The niche for lesser works has been troubled by fakes and theft. Some pieces are so simple they could be forged without great effort, or so small that they could have been stolen from a studio floor or plucked from the garbage without artists realizing it.

Strong demand has nevertheless spurred auction houses to hold online-only sales and other auctions specifically for works from the margins of a great artist's career. They repackage leftovers that used to get shipped off to museum archives or boxed up by heirs uncertain where else to put them. Now, some of these small works are surfacing for the first time in years.

"These are the names everybody knows—they feel safe for people, especially when no one quite knows exactly how long a good run is going to last," said Meredith Hilferty, a director at Rago Arts & Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J.

In the last five years, roughly 17,000 limited-edition pieces, works on paper and paintings by 10 top artists including Marc Chagall, Joan MirĂ³ and Degas have sold at auction for $1,000 to $10,000—a 45% increase over works sold by the same artists a decade ago in a comparable price range, according to the auction database Artnet.

As lower-priced pieces enter the mainstream, some art experts bristle at what they see as a rising acceptance of irrelevant work with little artistic merit.
Source: The Wall Street Journal

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