Contemporary Belgian artists



Every alternate Friday ARTPRICE posts a new or updated ranking in its Alternate-Friday Top Series. Today’s TOP focuses on the 10 best auction results for Contemporary Belgian artists in 2011.

In 2011, with a market share of 1.11% of the total European art auction market, Belgium is in sixth place, behind the UK, France, Germany, but also Sweden and Italy. However, the modest ranking of the Belgian auction market does not reflect the dynamism of Belgian artists on the international scene.The four artists in this week’s Top 10 are among the European Top 30 Contemporary artists in 2011, and Belgium is the third most represented nation in that Top 30 behind the UK and Germany.

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Luc TUYMANS $956500 Deal -No deal (2011) 09/22/2011 (Christie’s NY)
2 Luc TUYMANS $800000 Easter (2006) 05/10/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
3 Wim DELVOYE $297730 Flatbed Trailer Scale Model and… (2004) 10/13/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
4 Luc TUYMANS $260000 Shore (2011) 11/09/2011 (Christie’s NY)
5 Jan FABRE $252448 De Man Die De Wolken Meet… (1998) 10/15/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
6 Francis ALYS $248000 Le juif errant/Study for « le juif errant » (2011) 09/22/2011 (Christie’s NY)
7 Jan FABRE $233595 The Man Who Gives Fire (2002) 02/17/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
8 Jan FABRE $221606 The Battle in the Hour Blue (1989) 09/14/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
9 Francis ALYS $200000 Man-Woman with shoe on the head… (1995) 05/11/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
10 Jan FABRE $197876 Antroplogy of a planet…(2008) 05/17/2011 (Sotheby’s AMSTERDAM)

The top-selling Contemporary Belgian artist in 2011 was Luc TUYMANS and he was also the most generous. In fact, two of his three best results during the year were obtained at charity sales. His Deal -No deal (2011) was offered on 22 September at Christie’s New York Artists for Haiti sale (proceeds to the eponymous association). The work fetched $956,500 substantially above its estimated range of $600,000 – $800,000). Deal -No deal (2011) was created when Luc Tuymans worked in Bruges on an exhibition entitled Reality of the Lowest Rank – A Vision of Central Europe. He says the work was inspired by seeing a man playing a slot machine in the corner of a bar night after night. The painting depicts the man, isolated at the centre of large canvas (2m high by 1.3m wide) which absorbs his image in limitless distraction.

Several weeks later, Takashi MURAKAMI organised a sale for the victims of the earthquake in Japan at which Tuymans’ Shore (2011) fetched $260,000. The painting reworks a 2005 screen-print based on a Polaroid photo of sea surf on a night-time beach, produced by a subtle mixture of grey, white, ochre and deep red. By revisiting this work the artist gives a personal vision to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan earlier in the year. Some days beforehand, again in New York, his Easter fetched $800,000 at Sotheby’s. Less disturbing than the two works sold for charity, his Easter (2006) refers to the influence of the Jesuits on various decisional systems (political, religious, etc.). With these record results, Luc Tuymans’ prices were almost back to his 2005 peak when the artist’s work had just been exhibited at the Tate Modern in London. In fact a touring retrospective of Tuymans’ work has just ended after visiting the Museums of Contemporary art in Chicago, San Francisco, Colombus and Dallas and finishing at the palais des Beaux-arts in Brussels.

The Belgian artist Wim DELVOYE has a work in third place of this ranking entitled Flatbed Trailer Scale Model and Caterpillar 5C Scale Model (2004) that fetched $297,730 at Sotheby’s in London on 13 October. Generating the artist’s best auction result to date, the piece, representing a small-scale truck and its crane, is emblematic of the artist’s work. The work in laser-cut steel has a gothic style that reminds us of the artist’s Flemish origins. Long considered the “bad boy” of Belgian Contemporary art (he was behind the Poop machine Cloaca and the tattooed pigs…), Wim Delvoye scored three auction results above the $150,000 line in 2011, as many as over the previous 4 years.

Jan FABRE, with an equally un-angelic reputation, has 4 results in the 2011 Contemporary Belgian art Top 10 auction ranking, the best of which came fifth. His secondary market is finally beginning to adjust to the institutional recognition he has already received (Jan Fabre was, for example, the guest artist at the Belgian pavilion of last Venice Biennial). De Man Die de Wolken Meet (The Man Who Measures the Clouds) (1998), a bronze statue of a man doing just that, generated his best result of the year ($252,448). The same sculpture, produced in a limited edition of 8, fetched $20,000 less in 2009, while another one fetched $15,000 more just a couple of weeks ago (16 February, and setting his latest record), reflecting the rise in the artist’s prices. This week’s ranking also contains two other Fabre sculptures, respectively at 7th and 10th place. The Man Who Gives Fire (2002) fetched $233,595 at Christie’s in London on 17 February and his Antroplogy of a planet (Marble thinking model – Study 2) (2008) sold for $197,876 at Sotheby’s in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, his The Battle in the Hour Blue (1989) which fetched $221,606 at Christie’s London was a drawing whereas before 2011, the top auction price for one of Fabre’s drawings was just $28,000. The drawing, representing a beetle against a blue background coloured in with a biro, is also the oldest work in the ranking, created in 1989.

From November 2004 to May 2008, 12 works by Francis ALYS sold above the $150,000 threshold. From June 2008 to May 2011, only one fetched more than $80,000. Francis Alys’s auction prices were severely hit by the 2008//09 crisis dropping 37% between 2008 and 2010. In 2011, the Tate Modern in London presented A Story Of Deception, one of the artist’s most exhaustive exhibitions. With demand for his works stronger than ever (21% unsold in 2011 vs. 40% in 2009), it is no surprise to see 2 of his works in this week’s ranking. Trained as an architect, Francis Alys examines the tensions between space and human interactions through a very wide range of techniques from painting to performance. His Le juif errant/Study for « le juif errant » (2011) that was offered at the Artists for Haiti charity sale consists of a large canvas and preparatory drawings. The painting, which evokes the theme of migration from a mythological perspective, was acquired for $248,000. Another superb result was generated by his Untitled (Man-Woman with shoe on the head), from the Liar series (1995) that was presented with an optimistic price range of $100,000 – $150,000 compared with the $70,000 it fetched in 2004. However, the estimate didn’t discourage the bidding and the work finally sold for $200,000

While the auctions results in this ranking reflect the international reach of Contemporary Belgian artists, Belgium nevertheless accounts for 25% of the works sold by these 4 artists, generating 11% of their combined auction revenue.